Social change depends on collective action and funding at the grassroots

12 May 2017

People known to me question whether Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), a form of violation on women and girls rights, can end in our generation. They term this practice as deep rooted in their culture and therefore find it near to impossible for it to end. Do you experience such critics from people yet you are working towards ending FGM?

First things first, don’t give up your work, and don’t give up on them, either!

FGM is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as any procedure that involves the “partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”  More than 200 million women and girls have undergone FGM globally and over three million more are at risk every year.

Looking at the numbers of survivors (women and girls who have undergone the cut) cited by WHO, is quite an alarming issue that needs to be addressed. Luckily, it is being addressed. As for prevention purposes, the three million who are at risk every year translates to over 8000 girls who face this risk of a cut, every day. These are shocking statistics that have made headlines all over the world to a point that in the Sustainable Development Goals; FGM has an indicator 5.3 on the elimination of all harmful traditional practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and FGM by the year 2030.

Globally, a lot of advocacy has taken place to elevate the issue and secure funding for ending FGM programmes, across the globe where FGM is practiced, since it is not just an African issue. The UK Department of International for Development, just to give an example, has funded a huge programme on ending FGM that comprises of three components: the UNFPA-UNICEF joint Programme on FGM/C: Accelerating Change whose mandate is policy and community involvement; The Girl Generation, a social change communications initiative providing a global platform for galvanizing, catalyzing and amplifying an Africa-led movement to end FGM; and Population Council, a research component to inform on data on FGM.

But, this isn’t just it.

For any social change to take place; collective action is paramount. And especially when dealing with a social norm (a rule of behaviour that members of a community are expected to follow and are motivated to follow through a set of rewards and sanctions) where conformity of the norm, meets with social approval, brings respect and admiration, and maintains social standing for a girl and her family in the community, according to the UNICEF reports.

In The Girl Generation programme, where we work across Africa, we can attest to the fact that change is taking place. Communities now realize that ending FGM is a collective responsibility. No one person going at it can achieve much due to the sanctions ascribed by communities to this practice. However, collective action triggers individuals in the community to change. And eventually, the entire community will abandon the practice. It is doable. But, for this impact to be felt across board; these efforts, no matter how meager, must be coordinated.

How is this achievable?

The Girl Generation purposes to achieve this through its output two which concentrates solely on: partners delivering effective social change communications to end FGM. Working with grassroot organizations and youth networks in our ten focal countries; we have crafted a five days training of trainers programme on social change communications that seeks to build the capacity of our members, youth networks and other partners so that they can learn how to communicate effectively and identify applicable social change communication strategies aimed at contributing to ending FGM in one generation. This isn’t all; we further have secured funding from Human Dignity Foundation,  for grassroots organizations working on ending FGM across our ten focal countries in Africa. Through this support, organizations at the grassroot levels have developed programmes tailored on accelerating social change. So far, we have trained over 140 organizations on social change communications and have funded over 67 organizations to work on ending FGM.

Any upcoming events?

We are planning to host a Regional Social Change Communications training of trainers’ workshop for three West African countries in the month of May 2017. This regional conference will bring together members from Mali, Burkina Faso and Senegal to advance their social change communications skills and further identify strategies that will build the social movement in these West African countries.

Our contribution to Sustainable Development Goals...

This is the Girl Generation’s contribution to the attainment of Sustainable Development Goal 5.3. By building capacity of members and partners and supporting them to access small grants so that they can develop sustainable social change communication strategies to end FGM in their communities; supporting in amplification of the work the grassroot communities are doing and growing the Africa-led movement through membership and partnership engagement. However, we believe we can reach more people through our approach if resources were available to support the grassroot organizations. It is for this reason, we are always welcoming partnerships and collaborations so as to expand our reach.

As for sustained social change; we strongly believe that if these change agents are able to spark debates, discussions and dialogues in their respective communities, a huge critical mass of people will suffice, causing a collective action to effect social change-End FGM. Communities have solutions to the problems/issues they face. On ending FGM, all they require at the community level where FGM is happening is a catalyst to have the conversation started, funding to sustain these community led-conversation/dialogues, implement the strategies they will develop while off course being monitored by the community members to ensure that they are on the right track and social change will be attained. That is the power of social change communications.

Asenath Mwithigah

Social Change Communications Manager


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