Cluster Member VALERIAN MGANI works with the Association for the Termination of Female Genital Mutilation (ATFGM) in Tanzania’s Mara Region. Here he shares what he’s learned about involving the whole community in bringing an end to such a harmful practice. Female Genital Mutilation - or “FGM” - is engrained in our culture. Where I live and work, it is understood to be an order from the spirit. And people believe in it. The belief goes like this: if a girl has not been cut, then she cannot be accepted in the community. Once she has been cut, she is ready for child marriage, she can be taken out of school, and she can get pregnant at a young age. And so FGM does not just cut a girl’s body, it cuts short her life prospects too. It is at the root of all sorts of social problems that hold back women. This is why it is such an important fight. And this is why I am glad to say things are changing in many places. I work with the Association for the Termination of Female Genital Mutilation (ATFGM) in the town of Tarime. ATFGM began at the request both of local parents who did not want their daughters to be mutilated, and of local girls who wanted protection. Since our launch in 2008, we’ve rescued over two and a half thousand girls who would otherwise be mutilated and forced into marriage, we’ve convinced sixty-three traditional leaders to stop the practice altogether, and we’ve seen many of these leaders start to speak out publicly on such issues. As we see this positive change start to happen, it is important to take stock and learn lessons about how this change is happening. One thing we have learnt at ATFGM is how important it is to work at all levels of society: from the young children who are at risk of FGM, through to the community’s traditional leaders who help administer FGM, and up to government officials who can help clamp down on it.
I want to share with you a little about how we work with each of these groups, because I think these lessons can be transferred to lots of other challenges that you might seek to address in your own community. With children, it is important they have knowledge of FGM, and that they gain the confidence to speak out about the things they see and the concerns they have. That’s why we started Child’s Rights Clubs in schools. In these clubs, we run activities that help children learn about FGM and gender-based violence (GBV). But we also aim to create a safe, friendly environment where children know that what they say will be held anonymously. In addition to this, we train teachers who can act like a guardian for at-risk children: to direct, assist and support them. With traditional leaders, we know that they often perpetuate FGM because they need the money that they earn from doing it. And so educating them about FGM’s bad effects is one thing, but we also have to work with them to remove the incentives for it to happen in the first place. Poverty perpetuates FGM, and so we offer training in entrepreneurship skills for leaders, so they can make more money from running a business than from cutting girls. And then with government authorities - including police and other officials - we train them on FGM and GBV, we invite them on community visits to educate people, and we assist them to become role models to others, to help transmit this change throughout the community as they go about their work. Listening to the people you serve, understanding and working with those whose actions you oppose, and seeking partnerships to increase impact. All of these are crucial in the fight against FGM. And this is why the Cluster is important too. I joined in 2016 and have since formed a partnership with the Legal and Social Assistance Centre (LSAC), which is run by another Cluster Member, Ostack Mligo. LSAC helps us with the legal aspect of our work as we refer cases to them. But the Cluster also means we have the opportunity to listen and learn from other people and NGOs, so that we all learn more about tackling FGM and GBV. This makes all of us stronger in our fight against FGM and other forms of sexual violence.
Find out more about the Mara Cluster in this interview with their Cluster Mobiliser, Dorothy.