Senegal: Breaking the cycle of FGM

At least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), or 'cutting'.
It is most prevalent in countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. But it also happens in Europe, the United States and Latin America.

It is a practice carried out by members of different religions and cultures.
But people are fighting back against it.
In Senegal, rappers, activists and members of the communities where it happens are uniting to stop the cutting.

Filmmaker: Fatma Naib

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FGM, or cutting, as it is also known, is the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia.

The procedure has no health benefits, but can cause great harm and serious health complications for those who undergo the procedure.
Besides causing severe pain, the practice has immediate and long-term consequences for the health of women and girls, including complications during childbirth, which could endanger the lives of both mother and child.

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Cutting is mostly carried out on girls between infancy and the age of 15. Based on statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO), 85% of these girls have undergone FGM.
Source: WHO

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Although FGM was banned in Senegal in 1999, the practice remains widespread.
Girls continue to be cut in unsanitary conditions, often with inadequately sterilised equipment and without the use of anaesthesia.

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Mojio's mother was a 'cutter', who used to perform FGM on young girls. Moijo says she never attended any of the procedures because she could not handle the screaming of the girls.

After her mother died, Mojio did not follow in her footsteps.

She never had children of her own, but says that if she did have a daughter, she wouldn't let her undergo FGM unless it was performed by a doctor in sanitary surroundings.

Moijo cites poverty as one of the reasons why people become 'cutters'.

Her family lives in a small mud house in the village of Dabo, surviving on the fruit and vegetables they grow on their land.


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By law, a child's parents and those who conduct the FGM could face a five-year prison sentence. In reality, however, almost two decades since the ban was introduced, the practice continues and very few have ever been prosecuted.

There are four types of FGM:

  • Type I: Partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce (clitoridectomy).

  • Type II: Partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (excision).

  • Type III: Narrowing of the vaginal orifice with the sealing of the vaginal opening by cutting and repositioning the labia minora and/or the labia majora. This is done with or without excision of the clitoris (infibulation).

  • Type IV: All other invasive procedures on the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, including pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterising.

(Source: WHO, UNICEF)

Eina Heba continues to perform FGM on young girls despite the ban. She has been doing it for more than 20 years.

For each procedure, she receives two bars of soap, six kilos of rice, a chicken and $3 in payment.

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In Senegal, many consider FGM to be a crucial part of their cultural identity.

But prevalence varies throughout the country due to different ethnic and cultural norms.

In the Kolda region of southern Senegal, 85% of women have undergone FGM, in contrast to 20% in the capital, Dakar.

Arame is a 44-year-old mother from the Wolof tribe, where female cutting is not practiced. Her mother, however, comes from the Kolda region, where the practice is widespread.

"Since we are a Wolof family, my father didn't want us to be cut. My mother, who came from Kolda, wanted to cut her daughters, so two of us were cut. She was worried that no man would want to marry us otherwise. One of my sisters got ill because of the procedure. When my father found out, he was so angry that he almost divorced my mother. That was when my mum stopped cutting us. People were talking about us, but we weren't ashamed."

Arame chose not to cut any of her daughters.

Mariama, 10, underwent FGM. Her younger sister died of post-procedure complications when she was a year old. Mariama says that when she has a daughter of her own, she will not cut her.

Mariam wants to be a policewoman when she grows up. She believes education is key to changing attitudes to FGM.

"As a policewoman I will be able to fight against FGM and fight for girls' education. One day I will have my own baby, and because I know how it feels to have it done and I have lost my baby sister to it, I will not do this to my own child. It will end here."

There are no known health benefits of FGM. Some of the problems caused by the practice include:

  • Severe loss of blood, pain or shock
  • Urination and menstrual obstruction
  • Increased risk of urinary tract infections and HIV
  • Mental health problems, including PTSD
  • Sexual dysfunction, including dyspareunia
  • Complications in pregnancy and childbirth, sometimes leading to death
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Mariama Djarama, 44, is a development agent working on several projects to end FGM. She works directly with the people affected by the practice, as well as those performing it. She hopes that by raising awareness of the dangers of FGM, she can end the practice.

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Sister Fa is a Senegalese rapper from the southern region of Senegal who now resides in Germany. She underwent FGM and has been running workshops with local and international NGOs, such as World Vision and Tostan, to spread awareness and dispel the myths surrounding the practice.

She comes to Kolda several times a year to work with the government, religious leaders, children, parents and local artists. Through interactive workshops and music, she hopes to spread the anti-FGM message.

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Sister Fa works with local artists, young and old. After participating in awareness workshops, the artists are expected to communicate the anti-FGM message through their music and performances.

Aliou Cisse is a local radio DJ

"I came here to learn more about the subject. I am the host of a radio programme, and I want to be able to talk about FGM on the radio. I have come here to get the right information. Cutting is a harmful practice. The little girl cannot decide for herself if she wants it, and, therefore, she is a victim of the practice."

"It was important for me to hear that the practice already existed before Islam was introduced here, so it has nothing to do with our religion. I didn't know this. Now I can tell people who tell me it is part of our religion that this is not true - that cutting doesn't come from the Quran, but from our cultural traditions, and that it is not good because doctors say it is harmful to the girls and even to women when they have to give birth."

"My wife is cut. I would have preferred she wasn't because I know the risks that come with it."

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Children are taught about their rights during the workshops and are encouraged to share their personal stories in an indirect, but creative way.

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The boys also want to participate in the FGM awareness workshops.

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Felicity Duedu is a middle school teacher at Medina Cheriffe. Her school has been implementing the awareness campaigns in collaboration with Sister Fa for several years. She teaches the students the importance of education and the harm FGM causes.

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Fanta, a mother of six, has been taking part in the awareness campaigns for the past seven years.

Every year the campaigners visit her small community to explain the dangers of FGM.

She stopped performing FGM on her daughters after she learned of the dire consequences of the practice.

"Cutting is a bad practice, because the child faces health difficulties later. It is unsanitary and can cause diseases via knife contamination."

"We don't cut girls today; that was in the past."

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The community is coming together to break the cycle of FGM - slowly but surely.

The interactive workshops aim to empower young girls and women.

They learn about the importance of education and the dangers of FGM and early marriage, which often contributes to the continuation of cutting.

At the end of the week, the campaigners and the wider community come together for a concert put on by Sister Fa and local artists for the children.

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Executive Producer, Writer and Photographer
Fatma Naib

Design and Development
Alaa Batayneh

Script Editor
Carla Bower

Videographer and Co-Producer
Aida Grovestins

Assistant Producer
Basim Hijazi and Nadine Mansoor

Video Editing
Jamil Hodzic and Dima Shaibani

Additional Video
Nic Haque and Fatma Naib

Special thanks to World Vision and Sister Fa.

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Chapter 1

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Chapter 2 The Ban in Senegal

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Chapter 3 Chapter 3: The consequences of FGM

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Chapter 4 Chapter 4: What is being done to end it?


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Chapter 5 Chapter 5 - What does the future hold?

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