Virginie Mounkoro: The fight against female circumcision

 

Virginie Mounkoro

Since 2007, AEDH has been working in partnership with the Malian organisation APSEF. Its president, Virginie Mounkoro, explains what the group is doing to combat female circumcision, which is still a common practice in Mali.

What are the objectives of your organisation?

Virginie Mounkoro: APSEF seeks to promote the rights and well-being of women, children and families, and to work towards a fairer society. Our main activities at the moment focus on the fight against circumcision, the promotion of disabled women’s rights and the protection of the rights of young women who leave their rural homes to work in the city. APSEF is a young organisation, but we have a very experienced team. This means we can achieve results, and especially in the fight against female circumcision.

Have you noticed positive changes in Mali when it comes to female circumcision?

VM: The rates of female circumcision are still very high: it’s estimated that 84% of girls from 0 to 14 are circumcised. The passing of the 2009 Family Code hasn’t helped the situation of women either. Though Mali remains one of the countries that has not passed legislation on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), we are still seeing an attitudinal change. Ten years ago, the context was really hostile. But now people are more inclined to talk about it, and more and more victims of FGM are agreeing to testify with their faces uncovered.

What has APSEF achieved in the fight against female circumcision?

VM: Out of the 66 villages APSEF has worked in since its creation, 29 have renounced female circumcision. They now look at women differently. We notice a greater respect for fundamental rights of women and children, notably in terms of the right to education, participation in civil society, access to healthcare… At the beginning, AEDH helped us develop activities in Koula commune. After three years, the mindsets on circumcision had changed in a very positive way, so we started to work in Siribala commune, which is about 350 km from Bamako. We are now working in 10 villages thanks to the support of AEDH.

How does APSEF change people’s minds about female circumcision?

VM: To eradicate circumcision, our strategy is based on education by information exchange. Village communities don’t know what kind of consequences FGM can have. APSEF encourages them to analyse the reasons for these practices, to find solutions themselves and to put these solutions into practice.

We made a strategic decision to emphasise reproductive and sexual rights: it’s important to look at the health aspects of the issue, but people also must understand that circumcision affects sexuality, reproduction and also the right to physical health and development...

In the first year of our project, we identified actors to target with our messages: community and village chiefs, circumcisers and religious leaders. We then noticed that there were other people we should be speaking to: young people, for instance, and men. We decided to set up a training programme for factory workers in Siribala. At least one person from every family in the commune works in these factories, which employ somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 people. If a worker learns about the issue, he can become a spokesperson for the eradication of circumcision in his community. We also target local artists: they’ll be encouraged to write poems and songs on the subject of female circumcision, which will be recorded and diffused throughout the region. Artists are excellent transmitters of these messages, especially to young people.

 

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