Education as a means of fighting FGM
As the only girl in her village who has not undergone the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM), 15-year-old Rachidatou felt isolated, displaced, and different.
“My village practices FGM as an honourable and necessary exercise,” explained Rachidatou. “Even though I’m very afraid, it is something I have always believed I should do.”
Her attitude is common among girls in northern Benin, particularly in the regions of Borgou and Alibori where FGM ― a practice rooted in tradition and passed on from generation to generation ― still persists.
By educating women and girls about sexual reproductive health rights, FGM and gender-based violence (GBV) Cuso International is transforming women’s lives as well as the overall health and well-being of communities across Benin. Cuso International’s commitment to this work is aligned with the United Nations’ and World Health Organization’s commitment to abolish the practice, which is a violation of human rights.
Workshops train local female ambassadors to become agents of change in their community. As identified leaders, they take great pride in their role and are committed to educating the next generation of girls like Rachidatou about the many risks associated with FGM.
Upon hearing about her daughter’s desire to undergo FGM, Rachidatou’s mother wisely directed her Amidou Noura – a change agent. A mother of eight and a respected community leader, Amidou chose to participate in a Cuso International workshop where she learned about the reasons for not undergoing FGM, and why the practice has persisted for generations.
“Before attending the workshop, I thought the practice of FGM was necessary for a girl’s success,” said Amidou. “I learned that FGM is a dangerous practice that communities exercise in part because we know no different. Upon learning this, I knew I wanted to do more.”
Amidou clearly outlined the consequences to Rachidatou, using picture boards and resources so that she could truly understand the risks for her future if she underwent the procedure. Clearly recognizing the dangers, Rachidatou has since given up her plan to be circumcised.
What’s more, Amidou’s presence and influence have alleviated Rachidatou’s pressure to fit in with her peers. And the baton has been passed as Rachidatou now hopes to influence girls younger then herself and one day plans to become a community leader like Amidou.
“A lot has changed in this village since I took part in this project,” said Amidou. “The girls live without fear of being circumcised and many people have changed their minds about their plans to have their young daughters circumcised. Women approach me to explain their problems and together we find solutions.”
Despite a growing acceptance of intolerance, FGM sometimes continues underground. In many communities where the government has outlawed FGM, many look to alternative options with FGM being performed illegally in secret and at times in unsanitary conditions putting women and young girls at even greater risk.
Cuso International’s efforts to end the practice of FGM also extends from communities to school and college classrooms, where young female students are taught about the negative impacts of this practice. With support from Benin’s Ministry of Education in Benin, Cuso International has identified existing school clubs and supported the creation of new clubs with women’s health and well-being firmly on the agenda.
As a result, more than 150 school clubs in northern Benin now have messaging against GBV and FGM These clubs have developed action plans promoting the abandonment of FGM as well as self-defence strategies.
“We plan to train teachers from these schools and school club supervisors in order to strengthen their knowledge of GBV and FGM and enable them to effectively fight against it from school,” said Landry Faton, Cuso International’s Acting Country Representative in Benin.
With so many successful projects and efforts, young women in Benin like Rachidatou are pursuing brighter futures with less pressure, less violence and more opportunities.
You can help more young women like Rachidatou pursue a brighter future by making a donation today .