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Coordinated Community Response

No criminal legislation should be enacted without also mandating governmental and social awareness policies, professional training, and public education. These efforts should be coordinated to make them more effective. 

Legal consequences may deter the practice of FGM but because the practice is so entrenched in culture, religion and individual beliefs, communities as a whole must be convinced to eliminate the practice and change social behavior. Politicians, religious and community leaders, health and legal professionals, service providers, and other influential individuals or social groups must be recruited to participate in changing social norms. Tools should be created such as health facts, human rights principles, religious interpretations that are favorable to women, material and legal resources, literacy and organizational skills. Collaborations must be rooted in a human rights approach that focuses on the empowerment of women to be free from FGM and enjoy full reproductive and sexual rights and control. 

Coordinated Community Response

  • Legislation should provide funding for and require a coordinated response by local law enforcement, social service professionals, health care providers, religious and community leaders, immigration officials and immigrant community leaders.
  • Legislation should require that local communities be involved in formal and informal outreach. 
  • Legislation should require a coordinated community response to identify times when girls are likely to be targeted for FGM, such as school or religious holidays, and create prevention initiatives for such times. Legislation should require training for teachers, churches and shelters on these prevention initiatives.

 

CASE STUDY:  Study examines effective strategies for combating FGM

A study, The Dynamics of Social Change: Towards the abandonment of FGM/C in five African countries (2010), by UNICEF Innocenti Research Center, revealed that families are more likely to abandon the harmful practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) under certain conditions. Successful approaches include programs that engage the entire community, including families and religious leaders, and that are coupled with strong legislative efforts. Additionally, communities are more likely to forgo the practice of FGM when abandonment efforts include alternative measures that support community values such as annual “whole body” festivities celebrating uncut girls in Ethiopia, and build community trust by initiative projects that fit the needs of the particular community. This multi-level, community-centered approach is found to be more successful than those that target individuals or appear to attack traditional customs.

Efforts focused solely on individuals and legislation have been shown to have little impact when the community is not part of the change. Addressing the immediate protection needs of individual girl apart from her community has limited results if she is then reintegrated into the community that strongly upholds the practice of FGM. Rescue centers for girls alone cannot solve the problem as these centers fail to address the root causes of the problem.

However, the study examines approaches supporting social change that have had an impact on reducing the prevalence of FGM in Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Somalia.

In northern Sudan, the Saleema Campaign has eased communities into a discussion of FGM using a focus on parental care and family pride. The media has been cited as an important influence in giving voice to community debate in a number of countries.

Two forms of community dialogue were used in Ethiopia each yielded different results. The study reported that community conversations that took place within the village, relied on clan or village community structures, and included local NGOs with active participation of families, clans and ethnic leaders were more successful in changing social norms than community dialogues that took place outside the village and were based on district or sub-district structures.

The Fulda-Mosocho Projet in Kenya used a Value-Centered Approach based on the “belief that ideas must not be ‘forced upon’ participants. Through open dialogue, participants are encouraged to make their own informed choices in a non-coercive environment.” After providing support to build a communication and health centre to serve as a gathering point for meetings and discussion, the project successfully engaged the entire community by starting with an initial group of teachers and school directors who then shared the knowledge they gained with all levels of the community in a variety of public events. The study cites the initial inclusion of men and FGM practitioners as contributing to the projects success along with the institution of a guardianship practice to ensure that no girl became excluded from the community.

The study highlighted Egypt’s FGM-Free Village Model as well as the work of the NGO Tostan in Senegal. (See Case Studies below). 

These sorts of tactics, which often include a consideration of broader societal practices, include the additional benefit of promoting the abandonment of other harmful practices such as child marriage. Successful efforts also tend to counter prevalent myths about FGM by focusing on the fact that, despite popular belief, no major religion requires FGM within its doctrine. Separating the practice from ideas about chastity and promiscuity also was found to be vital in ending FGM. 

The full report can be accessed here: The Dynamics of Social Change: Towards the abandonment of FGM/C in five African countries.

See also: Africa: Holistic Approaches Key to Ending FGM/C - study, WUNRN.com, (9 December 2010).

 

Promising Practice: In Ethiopia, researchers found that when the process of community conversation included education from a human rights perspective, awareness activities for the entire community, public declarations, and support of uncircumcised girls, greater success levels in abandoning FGM were achieved. Researchers found that in areas of Ethiopia where the community is interdependent and the community as a whole was engaged in the dialogue, abandonment of FGM was more successful than in areas where the whole community was not part of the discussion. A human rights approach enabled clan leaders, religious leaders, and other community members to consider eliminating the practice of FGM. Additionally, the conversation must involve a real debate about the pros and cons of continuing or abandoning the practice. Through this, a real commitment is reached and the result is more likely to be implemented.

 Specifically, researchers found that:

  • Respected members of the community, as leaders of their organizations, should facilitate the conversation. They should be adequately equipped with audio-visual materials to raise education levels on women’s reproductive organs. The facilitators should make public declarations on behalf of the organization to enable individual members to be free of a perceived obligation to continue the practice.
  • Researchers also found that villagers had to be aware of the laws against FGM and they had to be convinced that violation of the law would bring serious consequences.
  • Awareness-raising campaigns should frame FGM as a violation of human rights, allowing community members to consider alternatives to the practice. When women recognize that they have a right to physical and mental health and integrity, it is transformative. This leads to productive discussion about other harmful practices such as forced and child marriage.
  • Support and protection from stigmatization should be provided to “role model” girls who are uncircumcised. In fact, adolescent girls themselves were recognized as a “powerful force for social change.”
  • Use other priority community issues, such as HIV/AIDS programmes, as entry points to address FGM.

Dagne, Ethiopia: Social Dynamics of Abandonment of Harmful Practices – Experiences in Four Locations (2010).

 

CASE STUDIES:  Coordinated community responses

 Egypt’s FGM-Free Village Model project

Egypt’s FGM-Free Village Model is an example of a national movement that involves the legal community, the media, doctors, religious leaders, youth groups and community members in a comprehensive effort to end FGM. The project, launched in 2003 by Egypt’s National Council on Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM), aims to empower families to resist social pressure to have their daughters undergo FGM, with the eventual goal of entire villages publicly declaring their opposition to FGM.  The Egyptian government allocated resources from several ministries to train and support health care providers, broadcast anti-FGM programs and infomercials on radio and TV, commit technical groups in the Ministry of Justice for anti-FGM amendments to the child law, and publish progressive and rights-based materials for religious leaders. NCCM also partnered with NGOs to implement its advocacy campaigns in 60 villages.  By ensuring the participation of these various stakeholders in the process, NCCM was able to develop and deliver a powerful and unified anti-FGM message. The project later expanded to 120 villages. The mainstreaming of the anti-FGM messages yielded positive results as a program evaluation in the project villages showed a considerable change in people’s perceptions regarding the universality of FGM and the social pressure surrounding the practice, their knowledge of the harmful consequences of FGM, their ability to retain information about the harmfulness of FGM, their willingness to discuss the issue, and their intentions as to performing FGM on their daughters.  The importance of coordination between various sectors of society was confirmed by the finding that while women in villages not included in the project were also exposed to anti-FGM TV messages, they were less likely to re-evaluate the necessity of FGM than women residing in project villages who were exposed to a much broader campaign.  The full evaluation report is available on the UNDP website.

Iraqi-Kurdistan’s First FGM-Free Villages

Egypt’s FGM-Free Village Model was adopted by WADI and the Stop FGM in Kurdistan Campaign to support the promotion of the first FGM-free villages in Iraq. The project includes seven villages and is open to expansion. Villages that sign an agreement refrain from practicing FGM receive a sign indicating they are an FGM-free village, as well as small compensation or services such as health and literacy trainings, bus services, or community space. The project goals have spread to other nearby villages as well.  See:  Arvid Vorman, WADI Anti-FGM Program Coordinator, The long road to the first FGM-free villages in Iraq: From Rumors to Reuters, 6 February 2013; and WADI, The Campaign against Female Genital Mutilation.

Kenya - Tsauro Ntomonik Initiative (TNI)

One example of effective collaboration between law enforcement and child protection agencies and an NGO is the partnership between the Tasaru Ntomonok Initiative (TNI), a community-based organization in Narok, Kenya, and the Child Welfare Department, the police, and the Justice Department. TNI developed community education and outreach programs designed to educate girls about their rights, and FGM and other abuses of their rights. TNI later opened a shelter for girls fleeing FGM and other abuses.  When a girl arrives at a shelter, TNI notifies the Child Welfare Department which makes a child protection inquiry and begins an intervention with the family. Girls may be reconciled with and returned to their families if the parents renounce their intent to have FGM performed on their child; however, many cases proceed to children’s court so that special protective orders may be obtained.  Girls whose parents insist on FGM are kept at the shelter. The police and the District Magistrate acknowledge that without this collaboration with TNI, it would be difficult to protect girls at risk of FGM. TNI also helped implement a campaign where police officers warned members of their communities about the legal consequences of FGM during the times of year when FGM was most likely to occur. (See: Protecting girls from undergoing Female Genital Mutilation: The experience of working with the Maasai communities in Kenya and Tanzania, Equality Now, 2011). 

 

CASE STUDY and PROMISING PRACTICES: Inclusion of Elders, Religious Leaders, and Traditionalists in Community-Based Solutions

Kenya - The FRONTIERS Project - A Religious Oriented Approach to Addressing Female Genital Mutilation/ Cutting among the Somali Community of Wajir, Kenya:

The FRONTIERS project of the Population Council developed a religious oriented approach to engage with and educate the Somali community in Kenya about the harmful effects of FGM, after background research in parts of Kenya revealed that FGM in those regions was firmly linked with religious beliefs, particularly the Islamic requirements of modesty and chastity. The strategy was designed to encourage critical examination of the religious justifications for FGM and build consensus among religious leaders about the Islamic position on FGM. This approach recognized that religious justifications were the most powerful motivator for those practicing FGM, outweighing all evidence of the harms caused by FGM, and the involvement of religious scholars was therefore deemed necessary because of their ability to influence public opinion. The project brought together religious scholars from different parts of Kenya for small group discussions. Trainings were organized to present FGM as a practice that was inconsistent with Islamic principles. The community members reached through these trainings included traditional birth attendants, school teachers, and police officers. Through these discussion groups and trainings, the project was able to effect a change in community views regarding the relationship of FGM to Islam, with many individuals and scholars publicly declaring their opposition to the practice.