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Engaging Social Networks In Communities Practicing FGM Key To Ending Practice

Writing in The Guardian’s “Adolescent Girls Hub,” published through the newspaper’s “Global Development Professionals Network,” Gannon Gillespie, director of strategic development at Tostan, examines community-based strategies against female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM/C), highlighting the efforts of Demba Diawara, a Senegalese village chief and imam, to end the practice in his community. “He applied this idea in 1997 and 1998, reaching out within his social network to end [FGM/C] by mobilizing 13 communities to make a public declaration to end FGM/C,” he writes, adding, “Demba’s is an exciting, expansive, yet challenging strategy. To change his community, he must change his entire extended family network, which in West Africa means a lot of people.”

“This process has now been replicated many times by others, leading thousands more to publicly abandon the practice,” Gillespie continues. He describes the program in greater detail and writes, “All of the above strategies rally the network towards a crucial moment — a public moment to mark the social shift. A moment after which it finally becomes acceptable to give up FGM/C. … This has become known as the public declaration or pledge.” He notes, “Earlier this year, and this is a testament to Demba’s theory in practice, there were four public declarations in four different countries in west Africa. Communities in Guinea, Mali, Senegal, and Gambia all stood up to declare abandonment of FGM/C and child/forced marriage after participation in Tostan’s three-year program.” He adds, “Working on a social norm like FGM/C requires working via social networks but we are finding that other issues — like education, child protection, and violence reduction — can also benefit from a similar strategy” (8/22).