The movement to end the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is spreading across Senegal, with as many as 5,000 villages joining the collective effort to eliminate the procedure. “Before you would never even dare to discuss this. It was taboo. Now you have thousands of people coming to abandon it,” said Mamadou Dia, governor of the Kolda region of Senegal. Although FGM was formally outlawed in Senegal more than ten years ago, it is still practiced in areas of the country with a traditionalist base, where the national government has little influence.
The movement to end FGM has gained considerable momentum in the country over the past 15 years, due in part to the efforts of Tostan, a nonprofit group whose name means “breakthrough” in the Wolof, Senegal’s primary language. Tostan has developed educational programs to promote a comprehensive, culturally based awareness of the dangers of FGM.
According to the New York Times, an estimated 92 million girls and women have undergone FGM procedures across the continent of Africa, with FGM being practiced as a rite of passage in 28 African countries. The procedure, which involves the partial or total removal of external genitalia, is designed to decrease women’s sexual desire and is seen in many cultures as essential for a women’s suitability for marriage. The practice is also known to both increase the risk of HIV transmission and infant and maternal mortality rates.