1997-98: Senegalese Mothers End Female Circumcision

In 1997 a group of mothers from the village of Malicounda Bambara and an Imam worked to end the practice of Female Genital Cutting (FGC) in their region. Their actions and success led to other villages in Senegal and other African nations following their lead.

Submitted by Reddebrek on January 25, 2017

Senegalese mothers in Malicounda Bambara end female genital cutting in their village, 1997-1998

The practice of female genital cutting (FGC) or circumcision has been a prevalent tradition in many African nations for generations. The practice, which involves removing the clitoris or entire external genitalia of young girls without anesthetic, is seen as necessary in many places to deem a woman acceptable for marriage, however young girls have died from infection due to the process. In Senegal, the tradition has been especially prevalent, where one in five girls underwent the procedure before puberty.

In 1997, having undergone a community education program by a local Senegalese NGO Tostan (meaning “Breakthrough” in Wolof), a group of 35 mothers from the village of Malicounda Bambara held a press conference where they declared to journalists that they were ending the practice in their village. The women declared that Tostan’s local education program, which included information sessions on health and human rights, had served as an inspiration to them to end the traditional practice in their village. Tostan had brought to light many of the health risks associated with FGC, and this resonated deeply with women whose daughters had died or been greatly affected by the procedure.

The declaration was met by angry responses from nearby villages that practiced FGC, as many neighboring villages intermarried with Malicounda Bambara women and the practice was considered crucial for a woman to attract a husband. An imam and student of Tostan, Mr. Diawara, warned the women that, if their movement was to be successful, it had to take place among all of the villages that intermarried. Mr. Diawara supported the women’s cause, and took it upon himself to spread the word to the 10 intermarrying villages in the area. He traveled by bike, donkey cart, and foot for three months to each village and discussed the problem with the local imams and men. He was able to convince many imams that FGC was not a part of Islam, and that the practice predated Islam’s arrival to North Africa. Therefore, he argued, the imams would not be breaking with Islam if they supported ending the practice.

Tostan rallied its support behind ending FGC, but it did not take an active role in the movement. Short of condemning the practice or saying outright that it was wrong, Tostan used its educational programs to spread awareness about the health risks associated with the FGC, which was effective in mobilizing many mothers against the tradition. Tostan’s programs were met with skepticism by many villages, but some welcomed what Tostan had to offer. Mr. Diawara was careful to follow Tostan’s example when he implored other villages to abandon the practice. He never used the word mutilation or condemned the practice outright. Instead, he highlighted its consequences on young girls, many of which were between the ages of 5 and 7 when they underwent the procedure.

In February 1998, Mr. Diawara’s family counsel, the 10 intermarrying villages that Mr. Diawara had visited, agreed to support a collective abandonment of the practice of female genital cutting. The declaration was the first collective abandonment of the practice in Senegal. Following the declaration, in December of that year, the Senegalese parliament drafted a law banning female circumcision, following the declaration by President Abdou Diouf that he supported the abandonment of FGC.

Although it was not the immediate intention of the mothers from Malicounda Bambara to stop FGC all across Senegal, other villages and groups of villages followed Malicounda Bambara’s example. In 2011, almost 5000 villages in Senegal had abandoned the practice, and the movement continued to spread across borders to neighboring countries.


Tostan's local education program (1)


"Abandoning Female Genital Cutting (FGC)." Tostan: Community-led Development. Tostan, 2010. Web. 27 Nov. 2011. .
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Hecht, David. "Standing Up To Ancient Custom - African Women." The Christian Science Monitor [Boston] 3 June 1998. Access World News. Web. 27 Nov. 2011.

Kenechuku, Chikeluba. "BAN ON CIRCUMCISING FEMALES IS PLANNED." Philadelphia Daily News, News sec. Access World News. Web. 24 Dec. 1998.

Walt, Vivienne. "VILLAGE BY VILLAGE, CIRCUMCISING A RITUAL." Washington Post 7 June 1998, Outlook sec. Access World News. Web. 27 Nov. 2011.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy:

Elena Ruyter, 27/11/2011

Published for the Global Nonviolent Action Database