News / Health

Community-Based Program: More Women Refuse Female Genital Mutilation

Pamela Dockins
The founder of an international group that educates people about the dangers of female genital mutilation - also known as female genital cutting or FGM/C - says a growing number of women are refusing to undergo the practice.

Molly Melching, founder of the non-profit group, Tostan, says her community-based program of education and training has helped reduce the practice in more than 6,000 communities in eight African countries.

Molly Melching says Tostan has been successful in changing attitudes about female genital cutting in countries such as Somalia, Guinea Bissau and Senegal - where her program is based.

FILE - American Molly Melching, from the organization Tostan, receives the 2005 Anna Lindh Award, in Stockholm, June 16, 2005, from Bo Holmberg, widower of the late Swedish politician Anna Lindh who was murdered in 2003.FILE - American Molly Melching, from the organization Tostan, receives the 2005 Anna Lindh Award, in Stockholm, June 16, 2005, from Bo Holmberg, widower of the late Swedish politician Anna Lindh who was murdered in 2003.
x
FILE - American Molly Melching, from the organization Tostan, receives the 2005 Anna Lindh Award, in Stockholm, June 16, 2005, from Bo Holmberg, widower of the late Swedish politician Anna Lindh who was murdered in 2003.
FILE - American Molly Melching, from the organization Tostan, receives the 2005 Anna Lindh Award, in Stockholm, June 16, 2005, from Bo Holmberg, widower of the late Swedish politician Anna Lindh who was murdered in 2003.
On VOA's Press Conference USA program, she said her group's success has stemmed from an approach that begins first, with asking people how they want to live in their communities, and then raising their awareness about issues that include health and hygiene.

“It’s this awareness-raising that is so critical, which is not about going in and telling people ‘This is horrible. How could you do this? This is barbaric,’ which is what some people’s first reaction is. But we felt like it was not the way to go about changing something that people think is good," said Melching.

Melching says female genital cutting is considered favorably in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia because it has an impact on a woman's status in society.  Many believe it helps women control their sexuality, but it is also widely considered a human rights issue involving the oppression of women.

In practicing communities, women who do not undergo the procedure are often ostracized.

The United Nations’ Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimates that at least 120 million women and girls have experienced cutting in the 29 African and Middle Eastern countries where the practice is concentrated.

UNICEF specialist Cody Donahue says Somalia, Guinea and Egypt are among countries with the highest rates of cutting, but he says there are signs of change.

"Even in countries that remain high-prevalence countries, we are seeing some encouraging trends. One is in Egypt, where we do see a modest decline in the practice," said Donahue.

Both Donahue and Melching say one factor that often slows down change is a belief that female genital cutting is tied to religion.

But Melching says religious leaders in some communities have begun to speak out against the practice.

“My experience has been that when the religious leaders hear the women talk, often for the first time, they are really shocked," she said. "And the thing I hear all the time is, ‘I didn’t know. I just didn’t know that this is what was involved. I had no idea.’”

Donahue says the perceived link between Islam and female genital mutilation appears to be growing weaker.

"Increasingly, you have very public and well founded, well documented religious arguments stating categorically that FGM/C is not a requirement of religious teachings, especially from Islam, you are hearing this very strongly now," said Donahue.

In addition to changes in religious views, a growing number of communities are now enacting laws that ban the practice of cutting.

Melching says laws are good but they will not change "deeply entrenched social norms."

“There has to be a law, yes," she said. "But the emphasis, we believe and what we have seen has led to mass abandonment, large-scale abandonment, has been this community education."

She says her community-based education process allows people to draw their own conclusions about ending female genital cutting.

Melching's work with Tostan on the issue is featured in a new book called However Long the Night.

You May Like

At Khmer Rouge Court, Long-Awaited Verdict Approaches

First phase of trial, which is coming to an end, has focused on forced exodus of Phnom Penh in 1975 - and now many are hopeful justice will be served More

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities More

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

Downing of Malaysian airliner, allegations of cross-border shelling move information war in war-torn country to a new level More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid