Orchid Project’s programmes aim to…
Successfully promote an end to FGC through a non-directive, human rights led education approach which accelerates the ending of the practice in communities by working on the basis that FGC is a social norm, and a violation of human rights, rather than a religious or health issue.
Orchid Project and our programme partners all believe that ultimately a community must collectively decide to abandon the practice of FGC, in order for everyone involved to understand that the practice must, and can end. As such, all of our programme partners work at a grassroots level.
Our primary delivery partner is Tostan…
An NGO based in Dakar in Senegal, which works throughout West Africa including in The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mali, and Mauritania, as well as Senegal. Since Tostan’s founding, they have helped bring about the abandonment of FGC in over 7,700 communities across West Africa, by equipping them with the knowledge that the practice does not have to continue. Read more about this on Tostan’s website.
Tostan delivers a human-rights based Community Empowerment Programme (CEP) which is a 30 month long programme delivered by local staff in local languages. Our partnership with Tostan complements the CEP and is based around their concept of ‘Social Mobilisation’. An Orchid Project funded ‘Social Mobilisation’ programme is currently taking place in Kolda and Sédhiou in southern Senegal as well as Fouta in the north of the country, and we are supporting this programme through to the end of 2015, and hopefully beyond. This Social Mobilisation programme involves working with teams of volunteers who have already abandoned FGC to spread the message of abandonment, and encourage others to join them through awareness raising and human rights based education. These programmes are crucial to the rapid diffusion of the message of abandonment, and can help bring about an end to FGC in surrounding communities which haven’t been a part of the Community Empowerment Programme.
The Social Mobilisation project has led to the abandonment of FGC in 72 communities…
And in the first two years has visited 350 communities, and reached over 20,000 people. A big part of the Social Mobilisation programme and its continued success lies in the identification of social mobilisation agents. These agents are all volunteers, and are identified by the abandoning community as particularly good communicators, who have also been especially inspired by the move to abandon FGC in their own community. Usually they will be particularly supportive of the idea that FGC is a harmful and unnecessary social norm above all else, and will have been able to spot the connection between the practice and early and forced marriage (EFM). In most cases these agents are a mixture of women and men and are already either religious, community, or traditional leaders, who are widely respected, as well as involved and engaged with their community at large.
In 2014 we also funded the purchase of tablets to be used by the teams and their supervisors. These tablets support easier monitoring of the project, and also enable the teams to show people what others in their social networks are thinking and saying about female genital cutting.
Tostan provides the training needed for these social mobilisation agents in areas such as how to facilitate discussion, especially around a sensitive and difficult subject. The work done on this project both by the staff at Tostan, and by the social mobilisation agents themselves is truly inspiring, and Orchid is proud and privileged to be supporting such a successful programme.
To complement the work done by social mobilisation agents in communities we also fund awareness-raising tours in schools, press tours, and radio broadcasts. Radio is one of the most important forms of media in Senegal, with most people have access to radio in some way, even in the most remote communities.
In Orchid Project’s first year we supported Tostan in a smaller way, by funding transport costs to enable programme supervisors and social mobilisation agents to visit more communities. The first tranche of funding went to the Gambia so that social mobilisation agents could easily travel between villages in order to carry out their work. We also funded the purchase of motorcycles in Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, and Mauritania, as well as the cost of 14 motorcycle helmets, in order to ensure Tostan’s agents can travel easily, quickly, and safely between their destinations.
ECAW, Feed the Minds, and Orchid Project are working together…
To ensure the abandonment of FGC in Kenya. ECAW (Education Centre for the Advancement of Women) is a grassroots organisation working for the rights and empowerment of girls and women in Kuria in South West Kenya. They have been working in this area since 2006 and are currently the only women’s and girls’ rights organisation working out of the area. The founder of ECAW, Dennitah Ghati is local to Kuria and has resisted FGC and other harmful traditional practices. Since February 2013 she has also been a member of parliament, as well as being an influential local leader. Orchid Project has partnered with Feed the Minds and ECAW from January 2014 – March 2016 on a programme which focuses on fostering a movement for change in five rural villages in Kuria.
ECAW’s aim is to enhance and promote girls’ and women’s equality and potential through the mobilisation, and education of communities, which includes the sensitisation of communities through the use of advocacy and partnerships. Like Orchid, ECAW sees bringing an end to FGC as one of the key ways in which girls’ and women’s rights can be promoted and extended. As with the end of Early and Forced Marriage (EFM), bringing about an end to FGC allows more girls to stay in school. One of ECAW’s main programmes works with over 30 women paralegals, also known as community outreach workers, who have been trained to offer basic legal advice to community members.
ECAW’s paralegals work to engage the wider community in a conversation surrounding FGC, and focus their attention on the education of girls, in order to raise their status and teach them their rights. Most of their activity involves the wider community, and paralegals will take part in various village forums, as well as provide support either practically or verbally to girls and their families when it comes to choosing to abandon FGC. ECAW have also recently recruited several male paralegals, including some older men who hold significant influence in the community.
There is also a need in Kuria for access to health care and information regarding female reproductive health and FGC. As part of this programme, the ECAW team deliver workshops with groups of stakeholders which hold power within the community, including parents, teachers, health workers and traditional leaders, as well as attending community forums to speak about FGC. They also deliver girls’ empowerment programmes and school clubs where girls are educated about their rights and their health.
On a more positive note, however, the numbers of girls being cut does seem to be falling, and the presence of some of ECAW’s paralegals seems to have made a real difference to these girls’ lives. ECAW’s and Orchid’s ambitions are even greater, however, and the project’s aim is to promote discussions of abandonment of FGC amongst the entire community, in order to strengthen and promote the rights of girls and women in these five rural villages.
Unlike ECAW, Feed the Minds is a UK-based international development charity. Choosing to focus on education and building grassroots organisations, Feed the Minds supports some of the world’s most marginalised individuals and communities by promoting literacy and education as well as a greater understanding that goes beyond both those things. Ultimately, Feed the Minds believes in the transformative effects of education and its ability to promote the kind of understanding that is relevant to people’s lives, whatever their situation or experience.
Feed the Minds has worked with communities throughout Africa including in Tanzania, Egypt, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and others around the world. Feed the Minds and ECAW have collaborated since 2008.
FGC prevalence in Kuria is high…
But Kenya is a particularly interesting case study when it comes to the abandonment of FGC, for although overall the country has experienced one of the highest rates of abandonment among 15 African countries (Unicef, 2013), there are certain areas, communities, and ethnic groups where the rate of cutting amongst girls still remains worryingly high.
Prevalence in Kenya has fallen overall by an impressive 11% from 1998 to 2009 and currently stands at 27%. But in Somali, Maasai, Kisii, and Kuria communities, the prevalence rate is over 90%. In Kuria in particular, the rate is officially 96%, with girls tending to be cut in their early teens between the ages of 12 and 15. However, the ECAW team’s baseline survey did find that 80% of 910 women whom they surveyed had been cut, which is slightly lower.
Within these communities, FGC is very much a part of their coming-of-age traditions, and is seen as a rite of passage for girls. This sense of tradition means that the practice is even further embedded in the community as a social norm, and Kuria’s isolation from the rest of the country only tends to exacerbate such issues, with the position of girls and women remaining vulnerable. For example the area not only has a high prevalence rate for FGC, but also for school drop-out, and EFM. In Kuria there is also very low media penetration, with no local radio, which affects people’s knowledge and understanding of the rest of Kenya. Girls marrying into the Kuria community also tend to be cut so as to allow easy assimilation and acceptance into their new family and wider community.
Orchid Project is also working with S.A.F.E…
Who are a Kenyan based NGO and UK charity. They run S.A.F.E Maa programmes in the Maasai communities of the Loita Hills, in the South West of Kenya, and have been delivering programmes in this area since 2008, reaching 15 villages, and over 7,500 Maasai. S.A.F.E Maa is dedicated to changing the attitudes surrounding FGC in the Maasai communities of Loita Hills, as a way to help create community-led change, and Orchid Project were able to support one tour as part of this programme in 2013. We have continued to work closely with S.A.F.E ever since, and are looking to further our relationship and develop programmes with them in the future.
Before S.A.F.E started working with these communities it was believed that the prevalence rate of FGC amongst girls and women was close to 100%. Now, however, it is estimated that almost 20% of girls remain un-cut, partaking instead in alternative rite of passage performances or ceremonies when they come of age. Orchid Project is proud to have been a part, even in a small way, of this important work and the excellent progress that is being made.
S.A.F.E. Maa’s programmes involve four key aspects…
Community consultation and research…
S.A.F.E Maa involves members of the community at all levels, from elderly men and women, children and youth, cutters, and families in the discussion surrounding the practice of FGC. In 2008, S.A.F.E began in-depth research on what would help bring about an end to the practice, involving door-knocking and taboo breaking conversations, and the conclusion was that an alternative rite of passage tradition which was created and owned by the community, but also safe and healthy for the girls involved was required.
Alternative rite of passage…
As S.A.F.E Maa found during their preliminary research period, it is vital for the Maasai to have a rite of passage ceremony held for girls who have come of age as women, in order to publicly recognise this change, and publicly accept them as women in their community. While maintaining aspects of the community’s traditional rite of passage, S.A.F.E Maa worked closely with members of the community to create a new tradition that no longer included cutting but still enabled girls to publicly graduate into womanhood.
After years of research, S.A.F.E Maa developed a performance in Kimaasai to initiate discussion, and break the silence surrounding FGC. The performers involved are all S.A.F.E Maa staff members who have gained the trust of the community.
S.A.F.E Maa has developed a network of volunteer advocates including men, women, young people, elders, cutters and traditional birth attendants (who would have also traditionally acted as the cutters). All volunteers are provided with workshops and training in development, advocacy skills, and education. Upon completion of training, they will take up leadership roles within the community so as to continue to raise awareness about the harm that FGC causes, and to facilitate further change.