Guest blog by Valerian Mganiis, an anti-FGM campaigner from Tanzania and a member of Arukah Network.
FGM is engrained in our culture. Where I live and work, it is believed to be an order from the spirit. The belief goes like this: if a girl has not been cut, then she cannot be accepted in the community. But once she has been cut, she is ready for child marriage, she can be taken out of school, and she can get pregnant at a young age. And so FGM does not just cut a girl’s body, it cuts short her life prospects too. It is at the root of all sorts of social problems that hold back women.
But things are starting to change in many communities in Tanzania. I work with the Association for the Termination of Female Genital Mutilation (ATFGM) in the town of Tarime in the far north of the country. Our organisation began at the request of local parents who did not want their daughters to be mutilated, and of local girls who wanted protection. And since our launch in 2008, we’ve rescued over two and a half thousand girls who would otherwise be mutilated and forced into marriage, we’ve convinced sixty-three traditional leaders to stop the practice altogether, and we’ve seen many of these leaders start to speak out publicly on such issues.
When change like this happens, it’s good to take stock and learn lessons. One thing we have learned at ATFGM is the importance of collaboration at all levels of society: from the young children who are at risk of FGM, through to the community’s traditional leaders who help administer FGM, and up to government officials who can help clamp down on it. I want to share with you who we work within these different groups. Maybe these lessons can help you in your own work:
Children need to have knowledge of FGM, but they also need the confidence to speak out about the things they see and the concerns they have. That’s why we started Child’s Rights Clubs in schools. In these clubs, we run activities that help children learn about FGM and gender-based violence (GBV). But we also try to create a safe, friendly environment where children know that what they say will be held anonymously. We now have 160 of these clubs. In addition to this, we train teachers who can act like a guardian for at-risk children: to direct, assist and support them.
Traditional leaders often perpetuate FGM because they need the money that they earn from doing it. And so educating them about FGM’s bad effects is one thing, but we can also work with them to remove the incentives for them to do it in the first place. Poverty perpetuates FGM, and so we offer training in entrepreneurship skills for leaders, and we provide funding for them to set up businesses, so they can make more money from running a business than from cutting girls. We have done this with 50 traditional leaders and 80 circumcisers to date.
As the saying goes “it takes a village to raise a child”. And it’s true, so we want the community members to be advocates for change as well. We try to do this in ways that connect with them: we run community cinema events, we host pretend court trials so people understand legal processes, we share training on sexual and reproductive health in general, and we also run courses and camps on alternative rites of passage to FGM.
CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANISATIONS
In 2016, I joined a “Cluster” – a group of local people and organisations that share a concern for a healthier, happier community. We give training and support to one another, and we’re part of a larger, global support network for community workers called Arukah Network. Through the Cluster, we’ve partnered with a local legal aid organisation. We refer cases to them and seek their advice. The Cluster also gives me the opportunity to learn how other people and NGOs tackle social issues. All of this strengthens our work.
We train government authorities - including police and other officials - on FGM and gender violence. We invite them on community visits to educate people, and we assist them to become role models to others, to help transmit this change throughout the community as they go about their work.
To conclude, I have learned always to listen to the people I serve, to try and understand and work with those whose actions I may oppose, and to seek partnerships wherever we can find them. All of these seem to be crucial in our fight against FGM.