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Thirteen Communities That Dared


    In The Fouta


    Communities That Dared

    Sileye Dia. Translated By Jessie Mitchell and Kelly Bauhofer.

    25- 26, 2003

    would have thought it possible? Until now, discussing the abandonment of
    excision was considered sacrilegious. People believed that Islam forbids
    non-excised women to serve water to others. There was complete confusion
    between religion and tradition in the region. In this zone, girls rarely
    chose their husband, and were married at a very young age. But mentalities
    have changed, as was proven last Wednesday (October 22, 2003).

    The declarations
    read by Ngouré Dia and Farmata Djiby Kane, in French and Pulaar
    respectively, last Wednesday in Sédo Abass (Region of Matam) were
    received with overwhelming applause. Molly Melching, the executive director
    of the NGO, Tostan, could not help but breathe a sigh of relief after
    twelve long years of work. The women in this very conservative zone also
    took this opportunity to pay tribute to Anna Lindh, the late Swedish Minister
    of Foreign Affairs, assassinated on September 10th in Stockholm:

    take this opportunity to affirm our commitment to the promotion of human
    rights and the health of women and girls in our community. In addition,
    we have freely and consciously decided to put an end to the practice of
    female genital cutting and early and forced marriage which, according
    to our religious values, are violations of women’s and girls’ rights to
    physical integrity and health. This declaration is the first step in a
    series of planned actions for the greater respect of human rights here
    in the Fouta. The village populations thank UNICEF, the Wallace Research
    Foundation, the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA, headed
    by the late Anna Lindh) and the NGO Tostan, and are mobilizing to spread
    the message in their
    communities, for the triumph of the ideals of health and democracy and
    the emergence of a culture promoting human rights. The following thirteen
    villages made this declaration: Sédo Abass, Sédo Sannarabé,
    Nat Kissa, Thiarène, Ndouloumadji Dembé, Ndouloumadji Founébé,
    Dara Salam, Ogo Deïba, Nawel, Wassa Koddé and Sinthiane Dar

    Many people
    remember the violent reaction of people of this region several years ago
    in Aéré Lao and Ourossogui when they were not even allowed
    to meet with the women to discuss these issues. They are especially able
    to appreciate this great step forward of the Pulaar communities that once
    excision as a necessary step for a girl to become a real woman.
    from fifty-four villages throughout the Fouta (coming from the regions
    of Saint Louis and Matam) set the tone for the declaration, with banners
    that read:

    the abandonment of practices harmful to the health of women and girls,
    particularly: early marriage and excision

    the abandonment of all forms of violence and discrimination against women


    to the respect and promotion of human rights and democracy

    In the presence
    of many village chiefs, religious leaders, local and administrative authorities,
    and between skits and songs the Tostan facilitator in Sédo Abass,
    Coumba Tokola, recited part of a poem, “We are one hundred and forty
    participants who have learned human rights, some of which were frequently
    violated in our communities because of the practices of excision and early
    and forced marriages. With the knowledge gained from the Tostan program,
    we have decided to abandon these practices
    and to fight for the integrity of women.”

    Kâ from Ndouloumadji Dembé, the spokesperson for the cutters,
    accompanied by six of her colleagues, expressed a similar position. Swearing
    before God, she said that she had forever abandoned the practice of excision,
    and had traveled throughout the region of Matam, raising awareness among
    other circumcisers. These women, including elders, also declared
    abandonment. “We have abandoned and we will not go back,” she
    declared before the enthusiastic crowd. Faty Binta Niang, the coordinator
    for the women of Ogo, completely agreed.

    For Molly
    Melching, the ceremony paid tribute to Anna Lindh, but also honored the
    people of the Fouta who proclaimed their complete dedication to the universal
    values of the respect and dignity of human beings, “through a historic
    declaration for the health of women and girls of the Fouta. Tostan would
    like to recognize the efforts and involvement of the imams, village
    chiefs, women, and the children gathered here. We know that your decision
    today will be the spark that lights a fire and grows to illuminate all
    of Senegal, bringing health, well-being, solidarity, love and respect
    to the people of Senegal and across Africa. Your mission is a noble mission
    of which we are all proud to be a part.”

    Another more
    formal public declaration is now being planned for 40 villages in Ogo
    in January 2004.


    The participants
    of the declaration are reassured by the full support of local government
    authorities. For the Governor and Prefet, it is an historic event and
    they rejoice that the people understand the the need to abandon harmful

    The Gouvernment
    Promises Full Support to Villagers

    A member
    of the Senegalese Parliament, Adama Daouda Diop, representing the Network
    for Population and Development at the Sedo Abas Declaration considers
    that the decision to abandon excision in the heart of the Fouta, is a
    “dream that has become a reality,” since, in this region, “excision
    was deeply rooted in the culture and has existed for centuries. Some people
    not understand that the development of a region and a country depends
    on the health of the individuals. Without reproductive health, women cannot
    produce. If they do not go for health care, they will not have children.
    And without children, there will not be development.”

    For the parliamentarian,
    “the human rights of men, women and children are universal. Women
    have endured oppression for ages. They have not had any power. This should
    have changed long ago. They had no decision-making authority. The problem
    remains. We must fight. As to the circumcision of women, we say no. To
    forced and early marriage, we say no. There are now
    laws that protect the people and the interests of women.”

    The Swedish
    ambassador to Senegal, Mrs. Annika Magnusson, explained that Anna Lindh,
    the late Swedish minister, “dedicated herself to the most vulnerable
    and marginalized men and women. She used her political power to defend
    human rights, especially women’s rights. Although Anna Lindh was just
    like any other woman, she stood out among her peers. She was an
    exceptionally dedicated mother of two boys, all the while playing an important
    role in international politics in Europe and throughout the world.”
    Thus, Magnusson promised, “we are going to continue working in her

    The diplomat
    declared that the actions taken by the people of Matam affirmed their
    recognition and dedication to human rights. For her, the declaration “will
    certainly benefit future generations of girls in the Fouta region.”
    The Swedish ambassador has given financial support fifty-four villages
    in the region and she is very happy and proud of the results they have
    achieved. She added that SIDA’s philosophy is to create conditions that
    promote development. “It is up to you, fully aware of your sense
    of responsibility, to determine your future,” she said.

    Sakho, Administrator representing the Governor of the Matam region, in
    the presence of the “Prefet” Mar Lô, recalled the different
    events that led to this declaration. For him, “Senegal addressed
    human rights by ratifying the most important conventions. The government
    strives through various services, associations, and regional, national
    or international NGOs, to ensure that these rights are respected and that
    this translates into the well-being and health of people at all levels
    of society. Now it is time to ask the villagers of Sédo Abass to
    educate other communities throughout the region. The villagers have demonstrated
    that they have the capacity to understand and apply their knowledge of
    health. They have been open to new public policy, especially concerning
    reproductive health. We must continue in this direction so that other
    communities become part of this movement, and so that we no longer experience
    such human rights violations in our country.”

    Samba Nguébane,
    the president of the Rural Community of Nabadji Ciwol, commented, “Sédo
    Abass is very proud to receive the people of these 31 villages that make
    up this zone (with a population of 41,206 inhabitants),” and prays
    for the success of this initiative. Mouhamadou Thiam, representing the
    Village Chief of Ogo, agreed as did Mamadou Kâ, the Village Chief
    of Katoté. Astou Sow, the representative of the community midwives
    and health workers, could not help but rejoice: “It is an important
    day for me and all of the health workers, especially the nurses from the
    health posts of the Matam and Podor regions. Since 1992, we have fought
    for the abandonment of excision. The sponsors of these programs greatly
    helped us carry out our activities.”

    After the
    Imam from Sédo Abass, Thierno Abou Dia gave his blessings, the
    Village Chief Samba Demba Sall said the event had been well prepared.
    He said he wholeheartedly supported the villagers. “We agree with
    Tostan’s ideals of understanding, development initiatives, hygiene, health,
    human rights, peaceful coexistence-We informed everyone about the event:
    neighbors, local authorities, governors, mayors, as well as the prefet,
    etc.- We invited all of the communities, leaving no one out. Many gave
    material and financial support. The mayors of Matam and Thilogne were
    also very supportive.”


    Fouta, Grateful and Honoring Her Memory

    Anna Lindh,
    the Swedish Minister of foreign Affairs, was assassinated on September
    10th in Stockholm. The ceremony of Sédo Abass was organized in
    part to pay tribute to the late minister. Anna Lindh had dedicated herself
    to human rights. She was among the leaders of the Swedish International
    Development Agency (SIDA) that for many years has financed projects in
    the Fouta. Thus a special tribute was given in her honor, in the presence
    of the Swedish ambassador to Senegal, Annika Magnusson, and First Secretary
    Göran Björkdahl, in charge of SIDA¹s program in the sub-region.

    All of the
    speakers expressed their condolences. Ngouré Dia and Farmata Djiby
    Kane honored “the memory of this great peace and human rights activist,
    who was particularly dedicated to the rights of women and children, for
    the respect of human dignity throughout the world.” After pausing
    for a moment of silence, they continued: “In this time of pain felt
    by the entire international community and all human rights activists,
    renew our gratitude to the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA)
    for supporting democracy, health and sustainable development in fifty-four
    local communities.”

    to Molly Melching, the Executive Director of Tostan, her organization
    has worked with the people of the Fouta since 1992. In collaboration with
    Unicef, SIDA, the Wallace Research Foundation, and the Rapidan foundation,
    Tostan has implemented its basic education program for women, men and
    adolescents in over two hundred and fifty villages in Matam
    and Podor. Micro-credit, health and hygiene projects were created to improve
    living conditions for all men, women and children. SIDA has supported
    Tostan’s education, literacy and micro-credit programs.

    The Swedish
    Ambassador noted that Anna Lindh’s tragic and brutal death has profoundly
    affected many. She added, “Anna Lindh dedicated herself to the most
    vulnerable and marginalized men and women. She used her political power
    to defend human rights, especially women¹s rights. Although Anna
    Lindh was just like any other woman, she stood out among her peers. She
    an exceptionally dedicated mother of two boys, while playing an important
    role in international politics in Europe and throughout the world.”