Mali, West Africa
Over 17 million people reside in the eighth largest country on the African continent. A large majority (65 percent) of the population is under 16 years of age, making Mali the third youngest country in the world. Around nine out of ten Malian women and girls have undergone FGM, and there is no evidence that prevalence rates are declining. Currently, Mali has no law prohibiting FGM and resistance to ending the practice is prolonged by rites and traditions.
A strong rise in religious fundamentalism also legitimises the practice and wrongly justifies FGM on religious grounds. The harmful tradition endures, despite the immeasurable amount of pain and suffering it causes. Ending FGM in Mali is a challenge that might seem insurmountable, but small changes are happening. Organisations like the Malian Association for the Orientation of Traditional Practices (AMSOPT), a member of The Girl Generation, are working with communities to end this form of violence against women. Their efforts are protecting girls in villages across the western part of the country.
A remarkable year
2016 was a remarkable year of achievement for AMSOPT’s work in the town of Saboucire Ndi, Kayes, which is around 500 kilometres north-west from the capital Bamako. Their team used a strategy of community-based outreach, and most importantly their work is by the community, for the community. The project was set up with three main components. First, AMSOPT engaged in dialogue with influential community leaders, who were mostly men. Dozens of meetings were held with Kayes’ leaders explaining the harmful effects of FGM on girls’ development, emphasising the unhygienic conditions under which FGM is practised and highlighting instances of the number of girls who died as a result of FGM.
“Thanks to AMSOPT’s work, precisely focus groups and trainings on FGM, we understand that children's lives are at risk as some of their health issues are caused by FGM”.
Male from the Dramebougou community
Testimony from Kayes
The second step involved speaking to the women of Kayes, who are both FGM survivors and perpetrators of the practice. The main reason why FGM continues is that people believe an uncut girl is more likely to have premarital sex and become pregnant, which will bring shame to her family. AMSOPT challenged these norms and formed focus groups for women to discuss the physical and psychological effects of FGM. This created a safe space for Kayes’ women to discuss FGM freely. Women shared personal testimonies about their lack of desire for intimacy, and the negative impact this has on their marriages. Other women talked about the complications they suffered during pregnancy and childbirth, as well as issues related with obstetric fistula.
The working groups explained the negative effects of FGM, and in doing so, tackled the mindset that perpetuates the practice. Through their discussions, they challenged the traditions and religious justifications that legitimise FGM. AMSOPT also provided medical and psychological support to the women to help them cope with the physical and emotional effects of FGM.
“In the past we did not know the long term harmful effects of FGM to women. Thanks to the facilitator from AMSOPT (Nafi) we now fully understand the harmful effects of FGM. Nafi did well by explaining to us how FGM affects women’s lives. Consequently, we have decided to abandon the practice of FGM”.
President of a Sabouciré women’s group
Radio debates, broadcast to 151 villages
The third part of the project involved hosting radio debates about FGM and gender-based violence, which were broadcast across 151 villages. These mass radio campaigns help to sensitise communities while inspiring more people to action. AMSOPT’s success was marked with a large FGM abandonment ceremony by 41 villages of Sabouciré Ndi. This ceremony brought together both leaders from the local authorities and the local people themselves, culminating with each village signing a commitment to ban FGM in their community.
AMSOPT’s work across Mali’s villages continues. By encouraging discussion between communities, they help to inspire more villages to end FGM. Fostering dialogue and sharing experiences brings people together and slowly but surely has the power to change minds about why FGM must end in Mali once and for all.