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Community Conversations Key To Ending Practice Of Female Circumcision

“UNICEF estimates (.pdf) that between 70 million and 140 million girls and women globally are circumcised. The practice is widespread throughout Africa, and in some countries of Asia and the Middle East,” author and columnist Tina Rosenberg writes in the New York Times “Opinionator” blog. However, she notes, “In the last decade, many countries in Africa have seen a marked drop in the practice of cutting. This is thanks to organizations working all over the continent.” She highlights the work of some organizations, such as Kembatti Mentti Gezzima-Toppe (“Women Working Together”) in Ethiopia, and Tostan, “which works with local organizations in eight African countries.” She continues, “All of the successful methods have one thing in common — a factor that is also responsible for the success of the Positive Deviance strategy I wrote about in February: ‘You must allow the community to decide for themselves rather than condemning,’ [Bogaletch Gebre, an Ethiopian woman who was circumcised as a girl in Ethiopia and is an advocate against the practice,] said.”

“Changing the law is a step, but only one step. In many places where cutting is outlawed, it is widely practiced in secret,” Rosenberg notes. She discusses Gebre’s work with Kembatti Mentti Gezzima-Toppe, a core component of which is community conversation groups, and writes, “Community conversations are now spreading through Ethiopia in areas of all religions. Gebre said KMG was reaching six million people in southern Ethiopia. The conversations range more broadly than health and gender violence.” She continues, “In 2004, the Ethiopian government made community conversations a major piece of its HIV prevention strategy, and Gebre’s group became the first trainers, all over the country. … UNAIDS considers community conversations a keystone of that achievement” (7/17).