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

UN: 1 Million Somalis at Risk of Hunger

Group warns region is in dire need of humanitarian aid, with at least 200,000 children under age of five acutely malnourished as drought hits southern, central part of nation More

Human Rights Groups Allege Supression of Freedoms in Thailand

Thailand’s military, police have suppressed release of independent report assessing human rights in kingdom during first 100 days of latest coup More

Jennifer Lawrence Contacts FBI After Nude Photos Hacked

'Silver Linings Playbook' actress' photos were posted on image-sharing forum 4chan; Federal Bureau of Investigations is looking into matter More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forcesi
X
September 02, 2014 12:58 PM
A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forces

A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Korea

The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Video

Video Internet, Technology Offer New Tools for Journalists

The Internet and rapidly evolving technology is quickly changing how people receive news and how journalists deliver it. There are now more ways to tell a story than ever before. One school in Los Angeles is teaching the next generation of journalists with the help of a state-of-the-art newsroom. Elizabeth Lee has this report.
Video

Video Turkmen From Amerli Describe Survival of IS Siege

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Shi'ite Turkmen have fled the town of Amerli seeking refuge in the northern city of Kirkuk. Despite recent military gains after U.S. airstrikes that were coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the situation remains dire for Amerli’s residents. Sebastian Meyer went to Kirkuk for VOA to speak to those who managed to escape.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.

AppleAndroid