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.
CASE STUDIES: 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.
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. (See: Nairobi Regional Workshop p. 25-28)
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.
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