My mother told me, "Women have to suffer, women have to endure." Many generations of Malian girls have grown up with this way of thinking.
In my family, the majority of girls, including me, were subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM). In most cases it was infibulation, the most severe form.
We continue to suffer both in flesh and spirit. We thought the pain was normal but we were not supposed to express it. This is what our culture taught us.
Leading efforts against harmful practices
The day my mother found out that I was running a project for Plan International Mali to end FGM, she told me, “A child from a good family should not discuss sensitive issues such as excision in public."
My mother’s way of thinking demonstrates the ignorance people have towards the complications and negative health effects of FGM. I finally convinced her and received her support. This gave me the strength and confidence to commit myself fully to end this harmful practice.
It is only by combining national policy and community-level awareness raising that we can bring an end to FGM
FGM, called excision in Mali, is without doubt one of the most extreme forms of violence against girls and is a violation of their fundamental rights. The practice is very traditional, based on culture and has an unjustified link to religion.
FGM is a traditional ritual to prepare girls for womanhood, usually carried out before they are married, between the ages of 13 and 15. However, it is sometimes practised on girls under 5 in rural areas and under 40 days in urban areas. A girl this age is much too young to speak out about her rights.
Changing attitudes to FGM in Mali
According to the Unicef, 89% of women between the ages of 15 and 49 have been excised in Mali. In addition, only 20% of Malian women and 21% of men within the same age range think the practice should end. This gives you an idea about the scale of the challenge we are facing.
Plan International is working alongside partners and communities to end FGM. We are promoting children’s rights by breaking down taboos and encouraging debate around FGM. This has given girls the opportunity to voice their opinions and address the issue of excision in public with their parents, local authorities and leaders.
Our approach allows girls and other community members, including village leaders, to raise awareness and promote girls’ rights without offending existing beliefs, through conversations, drama, drawing, poetry and songs.
Following our work with partners, 69 villages in Plan International Mali’s programme areas have made public declarations that they have abandoned FGM. In addition, 3 further villages outside of our programme areas have made similar declarations as a result of our awareness raising efforts.
The commitment of communities to end FGM is also a way to encourage and influence decisions nationally. The statements and agreements signed by communities have been used by ministers when advocating for the adoption of a national policy against FGM.
It is only by combining national policy and community-level awareness raising that we can bring an end to FGM. While governments must implement laws against harmful practices such as excision, they won’t be a success without addressing the deep-rooted cultural issues that are causing this violation of girls’ rights.
Together we can end FGM in a generation.