Dakar, Senegal – In 2013, AWEPA made great progress in its FGM/C Programme in Senegal. After a first national parliamentary workshop and decentralized activity held in March 2013, the communities requested that parliamentarians take on the struggle towards abandonment in a more holistic way, including organizing decentralized activities on their own, respecting local norms for secrecy and keeping a local flavour to the programme.
To respond to this request, AWEPA collaborated with members of the Committee for Health, Population, Social Affairs and National Solidarity of Senegal’s National Assembly to form and launch a Steering Committee, responsible for taking this topic forward within the National Assembly, including planning and implementing field visits for relevant elected officials. The Steering Committee has been established and plays an advisory role for parliamentarians interested in taking on the struggle towards abandonment of FGM/C in Senegal.
A second national workshop was held in Dakar in September 2013, and resulted in a) the elaboration of specific action plans related to each region of the country where FGM/C is most prevalent; b) an agreement to co-finance decentralized activities with Unicef Senegal as part of their Child Protection programme under UNFPA/Unicef’s Joint Programme on Female Genital Mutilation/cutting (FGM/C): Accelerating Change; and c) the adoption of initial monitoring and evaluation criteria to enable the Steering Committee to better track and report on progress made over the course of the overall programme.
In December 2013 and early January 2014, one preparatory visit and two decentralized activities were organized by the Steering Committee, and included parliamentarians who represented the specific areas visited. Below is a brief description of each visit.
A visit to South-East Senegal, in the regions of Kedougou, Tambacounda and, in the North-East, Matam, was organized to prepare for the visit of a larger delegation of parliamentarians to discuss FGM in the rural communities. These three regions experience some of the highest incidence rates in the country (ranging from 86% to 92% in some areas), and together border the Gambia, Guinea , Mali and Mauritania. The presence of international borders has been known to increase the prevalence of the practice, allowing those who continue to carry out FGM/C legally and anonymously across porous frontiers.
The preparatory visit took place from 5-10 December, and was comprised of a team of two, representing parliamentarians from those respective regions as well as members of the Committee for Health, Population, Social Affairs and National Solidarity of Senegal’s National Assembly. The objectives were to meet with the governors of each region, to determine the final itinerary for the parliamentarians’ visits later that month, and to identify and target focal persons/“Champions” in each area, for future initiatives related to the abandonment of FGM/C.
The delegation was well received, and they were able to accomplish all objectives set out for this mission. In addition, they were able to meet with local community groups and other resource persons, including health care professionals, which provided additional insight into the local context.
Visits to the field
In December 2013 and early January 2014, a delegation of 10 parliamentarians were accompanied by three resource persons on their visit to rural areas in the regions of Kedougou and Tambacounda, in South-East Senegal, as well as Louga, Saint Louis and Matam, in the North. The objectives of the missions were to directly explain to communities their role in the struggle towards abandonment, while hearing directly from them about the realities in the field. In this way, parliamentarians were able to gauge local knowledge levels as well as perceptions with respect to the practice, and better prepare for future interventions.
Parliamentarians met with religious leaders, where they received the endorsement and blessing to work on this subject. Such meetings are of prime importance if parliamentarians are to be well-received and well-viewed by the communities. In addition, they paid a courtesy visit to the Governors of each region visited, as well as the highest political authority in the localities visited (Saraya, Salemata, etc.). Finally, the parliamentarians met with local female leaders engaged in the fight towards abandonment, as well as women who practice or who have practiced excision on young girls. These visits to the exciseuses were prepared in advance through the intermediary of family members and/or other influential persons in the village, and occurred under the cover of night in the homes of the women in question. Thus, they were able to establish a relationship of trust and speak openly in an environment which was comfortable for the women. During these visits, parliamentarians were made aware of the complex nature of this practice, and the reasons it is so difficult to abandon through legislative means only.
Many recommendations emerged from the visits, which will be considered for inclusion in the parliamentarian Action Plan for 2014. In addition, the visits received widespread media attention as it is a frontrunner initiative for Senegal. Lastly, the delegation introduced a basic questionnaire to gauge knowledge, perceptions and expectations from the field on this topic. This questionnaire was well received and will be developed further for future visits.