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

US Border Patrol Union Accused of Taking Sides on Immigration

Report alleges agents leaking info to immigration opponents, appearing at their private events; Center for Immigration Studies director defends agents' actions More

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Reporting from Somali capital for past decade, Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal has been working at one of Mogadishu's leading radio stations covering parliament More

Video Rights Monitor: Hate Groups' Use of Internet to Inflame, Recruit Growing

Wiesenthal Center's Abraham Cooper says extremists have become skilled at celebrating violence, ideology on Web More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Interneti
X
Mike O'Sullivan
June 30, 2015 8:20 PM
Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.

VOA Blogs