Knowledge and dignity for girls and women
From 2016 to 2018, we supported Tostan to engage the women, men, girls, and boys of 20 villages in in the south-eastern region of Tambacounda, Senegal, with the end goal of revising practices, roles and relations, leading the adoption of new rights-based social norms and addressing the development priorities of their communities. All 20 villages publicly declared they were abandoning genital cutting and child marriage. 20 Community Management Committees, elected by the communities, are now working actively for the development of the local economy.
The remote and conservative Goudiry Department in the south-eastern region of Tambacounda is one of Senegal’s most deprived areas. Women and girls face particularly harsh realities: 85% prevalence of female genital cutting, critically high maternal and infant mortality, early marriage, and very limited educational opportunities and health services.
From 2016 to 2018, we supported Tostan to engage the women, men, girls, and boys of 20 villages in this part of the country with the end goal of revising practices, roles and relations, leading the adoption of new rights-based social norms and addressing the development priorities of their communities.
“Tostan’s approach to community development focuses on collective consciousness-raising. As ordinary people acquire knowledge in a way that empowers them, they eagerly share that knowledge with others in their community. Change thus happens from the ground up, through mutual respect and shared learning.”
Tostan’s participatory education programme allows communities to learn about democracy, human rights, hygiene, and health, while also acquiring basic literacy and numeracy. Over 30 months, more than 1,000 adults and young people with no or very limited formal education attended three classes a week, each lasting two to three hours. An inclusive and respectful dialogue within the local community and its surrounding social networks stimulated individuals, families and extended groups to not only reconsider deeply-entrenched and harmful practices but to identify local needs and find concrete community-specific solutions.
- All 20 villages publicly declared they were abandoning genital cutting and child marriage. Genital cutting is a deeply-rooted social norm enforced by community expectations around marriageability. In their class sessions on human rights, the participants learnt about their right to health and their right to be free from all forms of violence. As Tostan has always explained, abandonment following a public declaration is never 100 percent. However, public declarations are critical in the process for total abandonment and necessary for building critical mass, so that genital cutting eventually becomes a thing of the past.
- The programme participants and their extended social networks are now knowledgeable about human rights, democratic governance, collective action, problem-solving, hygiene, health and child protection, and have learnt basic literacy and numeracy.
- With time, this knowledge has transferred into important behavioural changes: a 30% increase in birth registrations, more regular use of latrines, greater participation of women in family decisions, particularly regarding family planning (+ 23%), and a stronger aversion to child corporal punishment.
- 20 Community Management Committees were elected by the communities (totalling 340 members, 70% of whom are women) and their members trained in project management. Today, these committees are able to lead community development initiatives, manage financial resources and act effectively in the interest of their communities. They are autonomous actors working actively for the development of the local economy.