Meeting with Binta, AMREF Champion who acts as part of the Génération Filles Senegal collective, a collective supported by the DEVENIR * project in the region of Sédhiou, Senegal.
Why did you start working as an end FGM/C champion?
Already because I myself am a victim of excision. I, who am speaking to you today, am a victim of FGM. I was cut when I was 3 years old. Also, following my cutting, I had a hemorrhage. Because of this, I was brought to Dakar to be treated because health services were not available in Sédhiou.
I can tell you that now I often have problems related to FGM. For example, when I have my periods, I have constant pain. The doctors told me that it is probably related to the cutting.
There are a lot of problems that we encounter in health posts, especially the mortality rate of children. There are many children who die and they say they don’t know why, it’s suspicious and it’s often related to FGM.
Previously, those who practiced excision saw it as normal. They believed that it was for our own good. It has always been part of our tradition, culture, society. A girl who is not cut is often considered a dirty girl. Sometimes she is not even allowed to make certain decisions in the family or to prepare food. Some men also refuse to marry her because they consider her dirty.
People who practice FGC now, do it badly. Already because it harms the person and it is done without their consent.
We often blame the cutters because they are the ones who practice FGM. When we speak with them, many of them always emphasize the fact that FGM is part of the culture, part of history and they minimize the consequences related to it. We, therefore, try to make them aware of the harmful consequences of this practice, especially since they have a strong weight in the decision to abandon the practice. We must therefore convince them that even if it is a tradition, it is a harmful tradition that has serious consequences on the health of women and their children.
We often blame the cutters, but we have never seen one come to the house and forcibly cut the girl. Each time, it is the parents who bring her. So, we will have to approach the parents, make them aware, communicate with them so that they don’t harm their children. We must make them understand that FGM has harmful consequences.
How do you approach the issue of MSF with parents, people? Is it difficult to talk about it?
Often, it’s difficult because they don’t want to listen to us. They believe that we are just there to fool society. Sometimes situations are very complicated: often we meet fathers and mothers who send us away or insult us. We encounter everything in the field.
Even if some don’t want to listen to us, we choose to continue. We try to approach them, to communicate with them in the hope that one day they will be able to listen to us. We have more problems with the parents but we continue to go see them so that they can discuss it with their children and the information can circulate within the families.
Can you describe your work as a champion?
We make home visits in the villages, in the communities. We meet a lot of families. We do this with the collective Génération Filles and since 2018, we have been in partnership with Amref. In fact, they proposed this partnership to us because they have been witnessing all our work for a long time. Since then, with Amref, we’ve organized round tables, etc. We’ve been doing this with the Génération Filles collective. We also did training sessions for young people last December 27.
When we travel, we go out en masse, and then each group goes its own way. We work in pairs. There are a lot of young people.
Often, we are in the field with the health posts including the midwives, they accompany us. First, they let us make our plans, see how we plan to carry out our activity. Then they meet us in the VAD, the debates to observe and help us if necessary.
Has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your activities? And if so, how?
COVID-19 has greatly changed our plans and activities. Before we used to do a lot of mass sensitization activities but now, we avoid doing that. We prefer home visits to debates.
Also, we used to bring people to our headquarters to discuss. But now, we prefer to go towards them while preparing ourselves well and respecting the measures that are barriers.