Thursday, July 20, 2006

Women’s Health and Human Rights in Africa

July 17, 2006 10:00-11:45

Speakers: Molly Melching; Executive Director, Tostan
Malick Diagne; Executive Deputy Director, Tostan

Tostan is an international non-governmental organization based in Senegal, West Africa. Tostan empowers local communities to take charge of their own development. Tostan is working in about 400 villages in all ten regions of Senegal and in Guinea. The organization focuses on sharing of new knowledge with other community members.
Tostan is working in the area of child marriage and Female Genital Cutting (FGC) in Africa. They have a complex program which includes educating the community, sharing information and knowledge and empowering women in society to get rid of these practices.
Mr. Diagne, in his talk, discussed that in order to bring about social transformation it was extremely important to keep certain things in mind. From his experience in Africa, he mentioned that it was important to give due respect to the culture of the community you are working in. For instance, Tostan’s implementation strategy is based on the decision-making process prevalent in Africa, which focuses on the family and the community rather than the individual.
Tostan also conducts basic education programmes which focus on participation and empowerment. The basic education program is run by women from the local community. Participants in the class are encouraged to share information and knowledge with others in the village through theatre, games and songs. Another important method of community mobilization, according to Tostan, is targeting the village elders and religious leaders and inter-village meetings. Tostan also relies on public declarations to bring about important transformations. For instance, if elders in the village declare that their village will no longer practice FGC’s, the decision affects not only their village but also shames other villages in the vicinity to discard the practice.
Tostan, has since 1997, helped 1, 748 communities in Senegal get rid of this practice.
Molly Melching, focused on the similarities between the practice of foot-binding that was practiced in China and FGC’s. Both practices were linked to ideas of honor, chastity and fidelity ,and marrigeability of girls. This is the reason families do not want to give up the practice even though they know its wrong because doing away with it would mean destroying their daughter’s chances of marriage, and therefore, a ‘good future’.
Since, the practice of foot-binding was discarded not because of prohibitions or hectoring by outside communities but by modern education campaigns, and organized diffusion through intra-marrying groups, the same approach needs to be adopted in this case as well.
Some of the important lesson learnt by Tostan is that changes in attitude is not sufficient, because then people will understand the practice is wrong but continue with it anyway because of societal pressure. Instead, there needs to be a change in the behavior of people. And to bring about this change it is necessary that there is a holistic, participatory program, the program should adopt a respectful approach towards the community it is working with, it should involve the entire community and finally, the intervention strategy should include all intra-marrying communities.

by Tahseen Alam

No comments: