Leaving Senegal – lesson #1 about ending female genital cutting
It’s hard to believe my six weeks here has come to an end. I fly home tonight.
I’ve learnt so much. I wanted to break down some of the things into bite sized chunks and try and communicate them properly – so here’s the first. It’s about communities working themselves to change from within and its summed up in this photo:
These five people, four women and a man, were a complete inspiration to me. Here they are, gathered in front of the entire village.
These are the people who now go out and work with local communities to spread the word about female genital cutting and why they believe it is no longer necessary.
As I watched this team, in the middle of them dressed in beautiful yellow and blue, Marietou Diarra, it all became so much clearer to me. Change happens from within a community – it may take a catalyst, it may take respectful discussion, it may take a greater understanding of “human rights,” it may take a while (sometimes up to three years) – it is a complex sinuous interaction of personalities and conversations and yet, with this issue, it is somehow inevitable.
Once Marietou knew that she could say no herself to cutting her daughters, once she realised that not only was there no need, but that she was entitled to her own voice and she was allowed to speak up and voice her opinion, there was no looking back.
I felt such a strong connection to Marietou, having heard her story here, talking with Molly Melching and Diane Sawyer last year at Women in the World. The first time I watched, the tears didn’t stop. As she cried, I cried. I still cry when I see this video and I still ask every Orchid volunteer to watch it to understand more. I hope to move them to tears and to understanding, because witnessing others’ grief and courage is one way to embed the reality of this topic.
What I really want people to see when they witness Marietou’s dignity and her story is that this woman is not a mutilator, she did not ever want harm to come to her beloved daughters. But she was trapped. She was trapped in a place where she could do nothing different.
For the last year, Marietou has been with me on this journey, in my mind’s eye. So, when I arrived at the village and was introduced to her, this incredible, passionate, strong woman, I felt awestruck and consistently drawn towards her energy. For what Marietou has achieved is incredible.
Now she and the rest of the team travel tirelessly from village to village, talking, connecting, asking about FGC, asking if people have heard about abandonment. They are advocates, ambassadors – they talk with whole villages, with individuals, with imams, with cutters, with children, men, women. Everyone.
The amazing news is that they are in great demand. The more difficult news is that they need funding to continue their work. This is where I feel that Orchid supporters may be called to step up to the plate. If we work with people like this, who together can inspire, can teach, can lead – using their own experience, their own passion, their own dedication (and by the way, they receive only the most modest of stipends – this is not a paid “job”) – these are the message bearers, the pioneers taking the word out further and further.
All we need to do is join with them.
Watch this space for more…… UK, here I come!