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Full Audio: Interview with Executive Director of Tostan, an NGO for Women’s Health and Human Rights


In a follow-up interview to her four-part series about a mother and three daughters from Guinea, who fled forced marriage and genital excision and sought asylum in the United States, VOA reporter Cindy Shiner interviewed Molly Melching, executive director of the private organization Tostan in Senegal.

Tostan, which means “breakthrough” in the local Wolof language, uses a non-judgmental approach to stopping female genital excision. It has been successful in more than 1,500 Senegalese villages and has taken its efforts to Guinea, Burkina Faso, Sudan and Somalia.

Tostan uses the theory of “collective abandonment” to inspire villages to give up the practice. “It is very difficult for one person or one family to give up this practice alone because it is a condition for good marriage,” Ms. Melching said. “Our method promotes reaching people who intermarry and having come to consensus together about abandoning the practice together.”

Ms. Melching said it is important for Africans at the grassroots level to be the ones leading the movement. “We in this approach do not blame people for practicing excision,” she said. “They’re doing it because they love their daughters and they want their daughters to have a good life.” In communities that practice excision, young women and girls who do not undergo the ritual are often considered unworthy for marriage.