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Transcript of the ‘ Exploration of social norms, reinforced by certain religious beliefs in Mali: the case of FGM/C.

Anne-Marie Morin, Orchid Project’s Translation coordinator (Moderator)


Caroline Lagat, Program Officer, End Harmful Practices, Equality Now,

Brehima Ballo, Chargé de programme, AMSOPT

Julia Lehmann, Senior Manager, SRHR & Gender Transformative Programming, Plan International, Denmark

Oumou SALIF Toure, Coordinator for Global Media Campaign in Mali.

Shannon Thompson, Researcher at Orchid Project.


Caroline Lagat you are an advocate at the High court in Kenya. You previously worked for the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights. You believe that advocacy for gender equality is a way of life. It is about what we do in our private spaces, which then transcend to the public sphere.

Brehima Ballo,  you are a program officer at AMSOPT, (the Malian Association for the Monitoring and Orientation of Traditional Practices). You have a university diploma in educational psychology and sociology. You wrote your dissertation on the sexual and reproductive health of young people, and you are a specialist in child protection, the fight against FGM/C, child marriage and gender based violence.

Julia Lehmann, you are Senior Manager on  SRHR and Gender transformative programming with Plan international in Denmark. As a social anthropologist by training, you are a rights based development professional. You joined Plan International in 2009 and have lived in West Africa for the past 10 years. You have supported projects and programs to end FGM/C in various countries, particularly in Mali, and you have helped to strengthen local partnerships and influence policy makers and donors.

Oumou SALIF Toure, you are the Coordinator for the Global Media Campaign in Mali.  Your activism goes back to your teenage years when you experienced sexist education and discriminatory situations. Your reaction against this made you aware of the notion of gender rights and your desire to change things led you to join the network of Young Feminists of West Africa, which you represented in the Generation Equality Forum in Paris. You are the focal point of the consortium of young people against FGM/C  in Mali and have been selected for the prestigious Personalities of the Future Programme by the French Embassy.

Thank you so much to you all for joining us today for this webinar.

Now I wish to introduce my colleague Shannon, who will present the main findings of our report.  

Shannon Thompson, Orchid Project

Good morning, good afternoon, good evening - depending on where in the world you are joining us from! My name is Shannon Thomson and I am a researcher with Orchid Project. I will be presenting the key findings from our Mali Country Profile update report which we are excited to be launching today. Thank you so much for being here and for your time with us.

My presentation will cover how our report was compiled, an overview of what is happening with FGM/C in Mali, what the data says, what the key drivers of the FGM/C practice are. I’ll also be framing some questions on how we can potentially move forward. We are honoured to have an amazing panel of guest speakers today to go into more depth on the topic of religiously-reinforced social norms and how they influence FGM/C.

This report is a country profile update which builds on the country profile report for Mali that was written in 2014. To compile this report, we reviewed academic and grey literature on FGM/C practice, political context, gender and social norms, and explored changes in national statistics and SDG targets. We had the opportunity to conduct interviews with grassroots activists, community-based organisations and implementing NGOs. We then went into further detail on FGM/C trends by conducting comparative analysis of data collected by DHS and MICS in Mali between 1995-2018. This provided insight into changes over time in the practice and we will explore a few of those now.

One of the overarching areas in our report is around the population in Mali which has doubled, or almost doubled in the last 20 years, from 11 million to nearly 21 million.

And at the same time, the prevalence has not changed significantly, from 91.6% in 2001 to 88.6% in 2018. What we can see is that if the population has doubled and the prevalence has stayed the same, then the number of girls affected by FGM/C in Mali has also doubled. So we estimate that 4 million girls have been cut between 2002 and 2022.

The map of prevalence within Mali shows distinct variations by region. However, these variations are heavily influenced by the ethnic groups and where they predominantly live. In the northeastern regions of Kidal and Gao, the prevalence rate is almost 0%; they are predominantly populated by Toureg groups who do not practice FGM/C. And down in the southern regions where ethnic groups who traditionally practice FGM/C are predominantly located, the prevalence rates are above 90%. One study concluded that a small increase in prevalence in Tombouctou between 2006 (44%) and 2018 (50.1%) may be due to ongoing conflict, which has resulted in the displacement of practising populations within Mali.

There have been changes in the type of FGM/C practiced in Mali between 2001-2018, which appear to be a decrease in “cut, flesh removed” and an increase in “cut, no flesh removed”. However, between 2001 and 2018, there has also been an increase in the percentage of women who don’t know what type of cut they’ve had. It is possible that what appears to be a change in the type of FGM/C is actually a redistribution - more people who don’t know what type of cut they have had. There does seem to be an increase in the percentage of people who report ‘sewn closed’, however this could be the result of changes in the way the question was asked in different surveys.

There's been a statistically significant drop in age of cutting between 1995 and 2018. 75.5% of girls between the age of zero and 14 are cut before the age of five. In 1995- 96, the average age of cutting was just below four and half years and in 2018 the average age of cutting was just below 2.5 years.

We can see that there are a few key drivers within the practice and within this context. One of the main things to be aware of is that there is no law in place against FGM/C  in Mali. And that's largely because the legislation has been blocked by religious leaders.

Rural or urban residency, socioeconomic status or wealth or even level of education don't have a significant influence on FGM/C  prevalence. However, as we mentioned, ethnic groups and ethnic ties do have a stronger influence. 70% of women and 68% of men believe that FGM/C is a religious requirement and a majority, 75.8% of women and 74.4% of men believe that the practice should continue.

So we feel that this speaks to a critical driver in Mali of social norms around FGM/C that are reinforced by religious beliefs. And it leads us to the questions of how to engage with social norms which are constructed or reinforced by certain religious beliefs and how to work towards creating shifts in those areas.

What challenges do religiously-reinforced social norms present?

What successes have there been in engaging religious leaders?

What are the barriers to changing religiously reinforced social norms?

How do we move forward with both programming and advocacy in Mali given what we know about social norms in this context?

These questions will frame our discussion with our panellists today. We hope to be able to understand the challenges of religiously-reinforced social norms, identify areas of success in engaging religious leaders or shifting these social norms, key barriers to change and then to begin to explore some strategies for how to move forward with both programming and advocacy in Mali. Please be reminded that after the panel discussion, we will have a Q+A session, so please input your questions into the Q+A box as they arise. Thank you so much for your attention to this presentation. I will now hand back to Anne who will lead us into the panel discussion.


Thank you for this crystal clear presentation, Shannon. If we wanted to summarise, the report highlights two determinants - the conviction that FGM/C is a religious necessity and the lack of legislative framework in Mali.

Now, from your perspective, what are the challenges of some religious ideas  to the eradication of FGM/C?

Caroline, I would like to start with you. In April, 2021. Equality Now associated with AMSOP to file a complaint with the ECOWAS Court of Justice, which is not trivial.. You are asking the Malian government to adopt an anti FGM/C  law and you claim that not doing so puts the country in population of the Maputo protocol, and yet the Mali government has been trying for 20 years to pass this law. So why hasn't this law been passed yet? And why do you feel we need to go to court?

Caroline Lagat  

Thank you so much for the question. So maybe let me start with  the last question in which you said that the Malian government has been trying for 20 years to pass a law against FGM/C. We feel like it's not enough effort : the anti-FGM provision had been inserted in the GBV Bill but, because they felt that there was a possibility that this bill will not pass in parliament if it was included, it was removed from that Bill.

We know that the Malian government also created a National Committee on ending FGM/C. But later on, the mandate of that committee was expanded to deal with gender-based violence. So these are the small things that we feel don’t show enough political commitment from the government of Mali to end FGM/C. And also we need to take into consideration the fact that the committee was not well funded. A lot of the capacity building and community awareness that we're seeing in the country come mostly from the efforts of  civil society organisations. So the government is not really investing a lot more than that.

So that's why we feel that there wasn't enough effort from the government to pass a law against FGM/C. If it was really blocked, they could have tried to find out what made this happen, and also tried to do more capacity building with the religious leaders, engaging them more. But this engagement of the religious leaders is mostly coming from the civil society organisations and not from the government. That is the issue that we have. The reason why we decided to file the law is that governments under human and international human rights law have an obligation to respect, protect, and promote human rights in their countries. So the aspect of promoting these human rights laws is now where we seek capacity and awareness raising.

And then laws are a form of protection because when you prohibit an action in law, it means that you are setting the standard that this is unacceptable in the country. And in a way you're providing protection for girls and women against FGM/C ; so far, because there's no law prohibiting FGM in the country, there's no protection


Is there another draft being prepared?

Caroline Lagat

We understand there is an amendment to the panel court which is the criminal law. But we have not seen that yet, and we are not sure as to whether religious leaders have been involved, nor to what extent civil society organisations have been associated to the process of preparing this amendment.. So I cannot say for sure that it will be prohibited within the law.


Julia Lehmann, amongst other priorities, Plan International in Mali works to “Protect children from harmful practices and increase their ability to make their own informed decisions about their sexuality, relationships and sexual health”.

70% of women and 68% of men in Mali believe that cutting is a religious necessity. How does this belief affect your work? How do children - young adolescents react to messages about their sexual health on the one hand and pro-FGM religious beliefs on the other? How do you integrate dialogue with religious leaders into your programmes?

Julia Lehmann

It's through working on the reproductive sexual health with youth in Mali that we find there is a tension among different messages, because more and more we are focusing on issues related to rights in whatever we do regarding sexual and reproductive health. It is not only the biological or medical aspects, but it is related to human rights and gender equality.

And this allows opportunity to initiate or promote a reflection, regarding certain practices or traditional or religious practices. And at the end of the day, this tension that is created between this new information we are bringing and the information from other sources is what makes young other people think. It is a process that we're trying to support. We also accept that the youth and adults need to engage in this reflection process and arrive at their own conclusion. And how we can  reconcile these two aspects and two messages, maybe not now, but it may create or lead to a change in attitude. And then people may start saying that it's not the religious aspect that needs to be taken into account because the negative aspects are so dangerous.


Now, are you able to engage in a dialogue with religious leaders? Are you able to reconcile both of them in your approach or is it difficult for you to do so?

Julia Lehmann

It's not always easy, that's for sure. Religious leaders are not all the same. Some are more conservative, are more rigid, others are more progressive, and we have a good experience with leaders that are more open to new ideas and  self-questioning. It is with such leaders we then rely  on their influence on other religious leaders who are less easy to convince. So it is up to them to share with all the leaders and continue discussions and find theological or religious arguments that can convince them. This is a way in which you can engage the dialogue and address the challenge.


Brehima Ballo, AMSOPT works in 252 villages in Kayes, 80 in Koulikoro, 20 in Dioila and 15 in Bougouni where the prevalence of FGM/C is the highest. You evolve social norms towards declaration of abandonment at the village level, and you engage in dialogue with cultural and religious leaders in your programming. In your opinion, and based on your experience with your abandonment campaign, how does religion influence beliefs about FGM/C at the individual level?

Brehima Ballo

We're working in areas where the social, cultural context is in progress and is progressively changing. In the beginning, religious leaders, especially the Muslims, considered our action to be something Western. Western countries were thought to be Islamophobic and eager to destroy the African culture. So right from the beginning, the dialogue was difficult. However, with communication on behaviour change, we invite women, men and community leaders to our discussions. And at the same time, we seek to integrate the transformative approach to gender. And de facto, we have the support of some religious leaders and, now, the narrative has started changing.

We are presenting cutting as a practice that is harmful to health, human health and violates the human rights of women and young girls. So in our narrative or discourse, we take into account the fact that no religion is backing human suffering. No religion is working for human health degradation. All religions build and defend human dignity. So that, in that context, we have discussed with religious leaders who have followed suit. And some of them are models that go from villages to raise awareness and preach in villages and in mosques.So there is a need to take into account a religious discourse and engage dialogue with religious leaders and to meet with them in mosques and bring them into villages as well.


Oumou, Global Media Campaign trains activists to lead powerful campaigns against FGM/C in which influential people such as religious leaders and doctors speak out in the media to condemn this practice. As we were preparing this webinar, you were talking of success stories from religious leaders, but also about the gap between what the religious leaders say and what they do. In your opinion, why is it important to make religious leaders take the floor in the media and what difficulties are you confronted with regarding this aspect?

Oumou Toure

With religious leaders, we have really involved them in our collaboration. In the beginning It wasn't easy to have them join the action on the ground or in our programs, but now I think we have really improved the partnership level and we are trying to continue to improve. Together, we have reached the conclusion that FGM/C is not a religious obligation. We've reached that conclusion because we have been able to work with them two or three times at great conferences that were held in Bamako. And those campaigns are not only done with the youth, but we engage with all stakeholders, journalists, doctors, religious leaders, and we talk about FGM/C. And we know that this is a very difficult situation for them because what they say on air, on TV, on the radio stations is very different from what we get during our meetings, because sometimes we notice that they want to make us understand that FGM/C are not so bad, or maybe that we should change the way we talk about this issue. But within Global Media Campaign, we know that there is no ‘good’ way to do FGM/C, and we really want to highlight the fact that FGM/C is not a religious practice.


Do you think this is a vicious circle between religious beliefs and what religious leaders say? And when religious leaders talk to community members do you think that they're scared of what they are going to say?

Oumou Toure

Yes. I think there is a little mixed up between our traditional practices and religious beliefs in Mali. This is why our work in Mali is extremely difficult. We know that not all traditional practices are good or approved by the society, and a number of cultural practices have already been abandoned. I think we've actually merged cultural and religious beliefs and this is why the influence these religious leaders have is pretty important. This double standard is a real problem. Some people say that FGM/C is not a religious requirement, and this is a pretty bold statement, especially when you are a religious leader. I've noticed that we had made significant progress before we were violently attacked by the audience. We were abused, verbally abused. But the more we talk with the audience, the more we notice that they ask us questions. They ask religious leaders to tell us exactly what they think of FGM/C. That's why it's very important for us to provide the public with enough information. And I think this is also very important because we need to adopt a law against female genital mutilations and cutting.


So I'm going to rebound on the second question,  the successes, and I think that you've drawn a pretty clear line between the challenges you've faced and the successes you've had.  And for instance, on your website, there is a whole page on the positive results you've got from your various actions with the religious leaders. Could you please speak of the Program you did with data specialists ‘60 Decibels’ ? And what is the impact of this program?

Oumou Toure

We've put in place a program thanks to Plan International Denmark. We've launched this massive online campaign with 60 Decibel. We've met with religious leaders, and I think this is one of our biggest successes. We went to national television stations and you know how difficult it is to talk about FGM/C and to have an open debate with religious leaders. Many people listen to these broadcasts and we've learned a lot. We've shared a lot of information about FGM/C. We can organise as many local activities as possible, but they're very limited; when we add these programs, we can reach a lot of people and we can spread our message at a cheaper cost.

And it's also very important to include religious leaders because they say that there is a clear line between FGM/C and religion. Each time we talk with them, they clearly say that this is not what the Quran or the Bible says in Mali, maybe elsewhere, but in Mali, no, it doesn't exist. And the main issue we have is with Muslim religious leaders. And it's very important to advise them to talk because before it was really impossible to talk about these issues with them. We have however developed a better relationship with the Muslim Consortium. Before they were not invited or they didn't even accept our invitations. Now they answer our letters and emails.  Today we have a better relationship.. I think we've made significant progress when it comes to our relationships with the religious leaders and we want to improve it further.

And why not participate in the adoption of this law against FGM/C because we want to protect young Malians’ lives, and we do not want to perpetuate this harmful practice, not only in Mali, but in the region. And we've noticed around this region. Many countries are already against this practice. They have laws, but since they know that they are infringing the law, they come to Mali because there is a legal vacuum, a legal void.


And you are talking about cross-border FGM/C  because girls from other countries come to Mali and are victims of this practice. Julia also mentioned that we should talk about faith-based advocacy. GMC has worked with the Islamic population and development on a book developing the religious arguments against the practice. Global Media Campaign has developed a number of measures indicating the impact of the campaigns, notably with religious leaders.

Brehima Ballo, I know that you've also known a number of success stories. How can we apply these success stories elsewhere? 

Brehima Ballo

These programs, as I mentioned, are pretty successful. We've been able to share our experience with our Burkina Faso counterparts and we work with SOS Filles / Mères. This shows that when we share our best practices, we can change social norms. If the communities accept to stop FGM/C, then it means that they actually understand the fact that this practice is harmful. So that's what we've done with these NGOs. That's why we work in as many villages as possible, and I take this opportunity to thank all these NGOs which work for social norms change in the region. Thanks to the data we collect, we can convince the Malian government to understand why it's important to abandon this harmful practice. And I think Caroline mentioned the fact that the Malian government must protect and promote human rights. We've ratified all these laws and we are a member of the African Commission and Human and People's Rights, for instance. And why should we not apply all these laws and legislation ?


What do you think are the key factors of these success stories?

Brehima Ballo

I think we were able to better communicate with the communities and make them understand that it's very important to go to the hospital and see what FGM/C has done to these poor girls and women. When they have these pictures, when they understand what are the consequences of these FGM/C,  it's easier for them to understand why it’s a harmful practice.It’s also the opportunity to give them opportunity to have a better life. So these women can also talk about what care they had to have and why the community should abandon this practice. So I think this is basically what I can say are the key factors that really helped us.

I'm really happy to see that Oumou  is present here because we need the help of the media. Communicating with local communities is vital but we also need broader means of communication.


Julia, Brehima said the consequences of FGM/C are clearly shown, people are eager to listen to these messages. Do you believe that these key messages are also important in your programs? How do you talk to religious leaders? How do you convince them to abandon FGM/C?

Julia Lehmann

For Plan International, I think what is important is our long term presence on the field. That's why we have a better bond with the religious leaders and the communities. We've developed these relationships for a number of years. So it took us a lot of time and it's pretty useful nowadays. Also, I think our reputation speaks for ourselves and we have a long term presence as far as the fight against FGM/C is concerned. So we are also involved in economic empowerment, education, and  important issues to the communities. So it's pretty easy for us to talk to religious leaders and the communities. People are happy to talk to us about sensitive topics and not the same way they would maybe talk to CSOs or the local NGOs.

And we do not necessarily want to talk about FGM/C  at the beginning. And sometimes we believe that they have other bigger issues such as security conflicts, et cetera. So since we have a broader agenda, it's easier for us to talk to them.

As far as health messages are concerned, we've noticed that it's a good way to talk about this topic. Recently, we've noticed that we've shared the same data, the same key findings, and we think we should examine the impact of this data.

Specifically, we've noticed that many girls are victims of this harmful practice at an early age when they are barely two or three years old. And we talked to the members of these communities. We asked them, why do you do that? And most of them said the same thing. The communities said that they wanted to prevent further harm to these girls because they believe that when the girls are young or younger, these girls would not be traumatised and they would heal better and faster. And we asked them if it's the best strategy, if it's what they really need to do. This is not what we wanted to convey as a message when we said that FGM/C are harmful practice. So we want to avoid these kinds of false strategies with time as they did not really lead to the abandonment of this practice, but to other issues. Because when they use these strategies, it's very difficult to protect the girls. Before they could speak, they could tell us what happened to them. But today they are young, they cannot speak.


So I will now pass the word back to Caroline. We've noticed that religious leaders in the Parliament block the law. So do you think that their attitude will change with time? Do you think they will accept the adoption of this law? Do you think that they're more tolerant, open minded?

Caroline Lagat

I think we need to talk with them and based on the discussions we had with them, we've noticed that it's not only about religious beliefs, and we, activists, have noticed among us that it is probably a lack of political will. The Malian government should step in and take its responsibilities. We cannot say that 1% of the population agrees, and 90% of the population doesn't agree, and I said it, generally these laws are not voted on by the Malian Parliament. They are actually adopted by the government, by the state. So the Malian local authorities, decision makers, should step in, take their responsibilities because it is very easy to say that cutting is not a religious requirement, but you have to use strong measures to actually back up the statement.

We've noticed that  this is a very harmful practice. There is nothing positive about it. So that's why I think the Malian  government should really be more responsible. Organised awareness, campaigns, support from NGOs and CSOs. It's our duty to support this law.

Let me just respond to what Julia said with regards to how FGM/C is being performed is changing. I feel as a, that is it could also be as a result of messaging on FGM/C  focusing so much on the harm on health, in the past years. So what we want to do now is push for the human rights approach and the gender-based approach. As Oumou has said, when we have this law, then the government will have to be proactive, in the way that it promotes human rights of girls and women. So it means capacity building and awareness raising. It means funding for programs that lead to change in social norms and gender norms. And the funding is coming from the government and not only being reliant on civil society organisations work only.

And then, and also of course, there's the component of punishment, which is as well a form of prevention. This would make it possible to address, as Oumou or Julia mentioned, cross-border FGM/C between Mali and its neighboring countries which have laws, such as Burkina Faso. So that would also be a form of prevention, but also allow governmental cooperation between Mali and other governments in the region so that they can cooperate and work together to prevent cross border FGM/C in their respective territories.

While religious leaders are slowly changing and starting to accept that FGM/C is in fact not a religious requirement, and we know that there's a fatwa from Kenya against FGM/C, but not all religious leaders recognize this fatwa..

So we really cannot wait for everyone or to have a consensus that FGM/C is wrong and wait until that time so that we can have a law. No, the government needs to be more proactive in the way that it is pushing for this law, and not every time retract this provision simply because it'll face opposition in parliament.


Let's move on to questions 3 and 4, if you don't mind.

Brehima, What are the barriers to changing religiously reinforced social norms?  How can we move forward ?

Brehima Ballo

First and foremost, I think the fact that we do not have a law against FGM/C  is a big issue when country where women's girls in rights are not protected or less protected. Second barrier is that we have social norms that are not fair to women. They encourage gender inequality. They accept that we mutilate women, prevent women from doing what they want with their body. Third barrier is probably related to the social and political instability in our country. Our NGOs work in areas where there are inter-conflicts. In the past, we noticed many villages were in favour of the abandonment of this practice. But because of conflict, we've noticed a serious setback in the progress we've made. So basically we are faced with three barriers, lack of proper legislation, and we also have a lack of real social norm changes and strategies, as well as the conflicts we have to deal with. When these armed people go to the field, they deconstruct all the work we've done in the past to protect women and prevent this harmful practice.


Oumou, what are the barriers to changing religiously reinforced social norms and how can we change social norms that are really influenced by religious beliefs?

Oumou Toure

I think maybe we need to change our approaches and what we do on the field.

We need to revise the legislation, therefore we need to put emphasis on programming and awareness towards youth for the next generation. I want to highlight a certain point.

It's very important that projects and programs that we implement in a country with a very difficult context like that ensure sustainability. If we start a project and then we don't complete it, we simply have to go back to square one. Social norms are an anchor in the communities and fighting against FGM/C takes a lot of years. And if they can be restored in a few months, we need to ensure sustainability in the programs we implement in those communities.

And as far as social norms are concerned, we need to communicate. We have a lot of dialogues and we have discussed a lot. We need to implement both approaches, namely the law that criminalises this practice and a change of behaviour in order to have a solution to this problem.  I think having a law without the backing of the society would not be efficient. And in a worst case scenario, it may have negative impacts.

In Burkina Faso for example, in our program, FGM/C is  prohibited by law, there is a certain level of justice to apply or implement this law. And families are really reluctant to practise it because they don't want to be against the law.  I see a lot of risks, and I do agree with the fact that the government of Mali needs to strengthen the effort, but they need to receive support from social actors and different groups in order to reach a level where we have a big support from the population towards this change.

And for social norm change we need to focus on the challenge between an individual decision and the collective decision to abandon FGM/C :  our approach so far was an approach that said  “if people have information on this topic, they may change their behaviour”. But we have noted that it is not alway the case. Because people can change their behaviors at the individual level whereas the community continues practicing FGM/C.

We need to find appropriate strategies in order to facilitate a change process. So the community needs to change as a whole. It is not an individual who will change the practice and say that “in our family, we will not practice FGM on our daughters”. So we need to think about our methodologies and our approaches and how we can implement a common reflection process within the community and bring them to make a decision that will be made together, not individually.


Same question Caroline. What are the obstacles that need to be addressed in order to change the social norms and how can we address those?

Caroline Lagat

I will echo what exactly what Julia has said, but maybe where I will divert is that we feel that law is important. Let us start with the law, with the criminalisation of FGM/C and the implementation of the law will of course lead to the implementation of programmes that the government will have to carry out. For example, have programs for female genital mutilation which target the change of social norms and gender norms. This would guarantee funding for these programs and for the efforts to implement the law.

A comment maybe to touch on Burkina Faso, and also just in general how law is perceived. The perception is that when you adopt a law it's viewed as a formula that will solve everything. But that is not a magic bullet. When you implement a law, you have to continue working with the community and also working with the people who are expected to implement these laws.

For example we've seen certain cases where particularly in Burkina Faso they have a very strict law on FGM/C. Judges, instead of giving the sentences, give suspended sentences because the punishment is perceived to be too harsh. Law was adopted and it's been left to judicial actors to implement it. But they are not being targeted with sensitisation messages as the society and the community members are. So after implementation of law, you have to work with the community and continue with the programs of sensitization and also capacity building of state actors that need to implement these laws. Funding programs to end FGM/C also means funding programs to build capacity of everyone in the Justice chain.

We must also recognise that FGM/C is not an isolated issue. It is linked to other societal issues. It is important to recognise this intersection: let us not isolate programmes and focus only on FGM/C. It is important to focus on other underlying issues or issues that intersect with FGM/C, for example child marriage.

And then also, just to echo what someone said about the sustainability of programs. What we observe is that particularly on the donor side funding for FGM/C programs last maybe 1, 2, 3 years, three years is not enough for you to see change. Three years is not enough to change someone's mindset.

In those three years, it's possible that you may not see the change that you expected because you have to report on numbers. That's the kind of measure that we use for success. So we need to ensure that even as we are funding programs of to end FGM/C, you are recognizing the fact that it'll take a long time. And so you are investing long term, you're not investing short term, so that when funding ends, then what, what else happens? Civil society organisations in the country have to scramble to look for more funding to continue with their programs or have to cut down the programs that they were implementing so that they can be able to continue the work that they have been doing.

That is the problem that we see. And it's for that reason that I am  saying that funding has to also come from the government. It shouldn't be overly reliant on civil society organisations, and it's through having  a law and also a dedicated budget within the National Budget. So you see the government having to step in when the donor funding has been reduced.


Last question before we need to give the floor to the participants:  let’s approach measurements of impacts. For example, UNICEF has come up with the ACT framework, a model for monitoring and evaluating social norms. How are you measuring impact ?

Brehima Ballo

All the participants in this panel are well aware of the fact that we have tools for measurement. So we'll start with a survey on behaviours and practices that motivate our communities to indulge in cutting. And at the end of the program, the same community that went through the survey goes through the same exercicie. And there we can measure where we come from. So we have these tools. We have indicators that help us to measure the change and that help us to implement our program. So this allows us to see if we are making progress. We involve the community from the start in the implementation and during the program evaluation. Currently we need programs that will last a long time, and a program for advocacy to adopt legislative norms that prohibit these practices. And also we need to focus our action on factual data collection. We need evidence of change that will show what we have obtained as outcomes and results.



Thank you, we give the floor to the participant because time is sadly flying.

Questions from the floor

1. I would like to ask: have you found not only arguments to say "FGC is not obligatory by the Muslim religion" but also "what are the aspects of the religion/arguments from the Quran or hadiths that support the health and well-being of women and children?" that could accompany the human rights-based campaigns ? Thank you!

Oumou Toure

This line of argument in the book written by Islam Population and Development has been developed by religious people themselves. And I think it is important that the initiative comes from them. It contains arguments, which are not only Muslim and include Christian arguments,  stating FGM/C  is prohibited by the Islamic religion. I can share the reference after this session so that many people will have access to it.

This document was developed by religious leaders  and at the moment it is not online. Julia has spoken about religious leaders who are moderators. The network of Imams and scholars defending scientific Islam says that God protects women and protects them against every form of cutting.

2 - Is there any difference between the younger generation and older generations, do they have different perspectives or different point of views ?

Julia Lehmann

I think there are slightly different opinions and it's easier to convince young people to adhere to new ideas, but I also think that it depends on each type of society. And in Mali specifically, younger people do not have the last word. They cannot really change their tradition or traditional practices. The Elderly have a better position in society, they hold the power and that's why we want to involve them, and especially Grandmothers. They play an important role in the decision making process.

Especially when we talk about FGMC and based on our programs it was not really what we wanted to achieve and understand but maybe with time we'll be able to include this generational perspective. I think it could be interesting in Mali to understand how various  generations see this issue and how we can break this vicious cycle. There is lots of work to do. We know that we should count on the participation of every stakeholder, young people, old people, and it's a generational fight.

3. What is the best approach the religious approach or the cultural approach? Do you think that we should blend these approaches, understand the key factors and determinants? Do you believe that when we use religious determinants and neglect cultural determinants could be a mistake.

Oumou Toure

I think that first and foremost we need to understand each approach because there is a little confusion between religion and culture, and we see that all the harmful practices that we want to put an end to mix these two approaches. We need to separate cultural and religious practices, especially when they are harmful. And we must also understand that good practices, in terms of religion, exist. It is very important to understand them. Because I believe they will pave the way for the solutions we need in the future. As long as we cannot separate harmful religious and cultural practices, we will not be able to stop these practices.

4. What kind of message do you want to convey when you have a complaint against the Mali government?

Caroline Lagat

We want the State to be more proactive to protect their citizens. Particularly for FGM/C we see that it relies on the opposition from religious leaders or traditional leaders. The Governement says they're getting opposition against FGM/C and that is why they have not been able to to adopt a law. According to them, only a small majority of the population believe that FGM/C is wrong, so the official arguement goes that they're waiting for the right time for that law to be adopted. And what we are trying to say is no. When they signed a convention like the Maputo protocol and the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women, they were saying that they would respect those Conventions, that they would protect the rights of women, and they would take all necessary measures  to ensure that the human rights of women and girls are respected. And how do you do this? One of the possibilities is the law. Others are capacity building, awareness, and raising funding. There's so many other ways, but when you don't have a law, you basically do not have that basic protection for girls and women. So that is what we are trying to say, that the Government should ensure that these laws are passed, and then from there, continue to work with the community to ensure the implementation of this law and also funding for programs, all other various approaches that they should adopt.

5. Do you think it conveys a positive and strong message in West Africa? .

Caroline Lagat

I think this is the case. Let me give you the example of Kenya, when the FGM/C prohibition law was challenged in Kenya {by a doctor wanting it repealed and which would have resulted in an increase in clandestine practice and in medicalised FGM/C), the whole world, all those working on the subject, were looking at Kenya to see what would happen. The legal victory of anti-FGM/C activists, the retention of the law against FGM/C in Kenya and the claims that the government should change the law and ensure that the protection of women and girls is stronger by banning all forms of FGM/C, were positive. And this positivity can be replicated in other countries because some of the relevant arguments have been raised in this litigation that we see in other countries. For example, perhaps not in Mali, but in Liberia and Sierra Leone, we see the issue of consent of adult women to undergo FGM/C. This issue has also been addressed in the law. What I mean is that just because this is a Malian dispute, it doesn't mean that nobody else is looking at what's going on. So we hope that governments will be more proactive as soon as a positive judgement comes out to accelerate efforts to pass laws in their own countries.

6. How can we really have more information on this complaint? What is the title of this case?

Caroline Lagat

So the hearing has not yet taken place. It's the preliminary filings which have been held. But I need to point out that at the moment the case has been suspended by the ECOWAS. So until that suspension has been lifted, the case cannot continue. We are in the process of waiting and also planning the next steps forward. (Mali is still a member, but they have been suspended from the decision making bodies).

7.  What reception do you have when mentioning that FGM is recognized as a form of torture by the UN?

Brehima Ballo

I think this is a very big issue. Men should really go through a self examination process. We've ratified so many conventions and protocols, and FGM/C is indeed a form of torture. It is true that as far as anthropological sciences are concerned, it is not really what we mean by torture. Because when a mother accepts to perform that kind of practice on her daughter, she thinks she's doing her good. But when we talk to doctors, when we talk to nurses, we clearly see that this is a form of torture because there are a number of physical and mental consequences related to this practice. There are sub-studies that clearly show that FGM/C and cuttings are a form of torture. And this is true as far as legal issues are concerned but I think when we talk to the mothers, the grandmothers, it is  clear they do not want to harm their girls.

8. In the current security context in Mali, is the timing of actions to push the government and religious leaders to take responsibility a consideration?


Yeah, I think Caroline and I agree that this is the right time  to do so because we know that we have a full plate of issues and everybody wants to talk about their own issues. I think in Mali , we want to build a new country and we need to include FGM/C. We need to start this discussion and the need to take responsibility with a sense of history because what will happen during this period will be part of history. One can’t continue to violate the rights of women and young girls for the long term. Every government that comes has the same problem, but we need to, we will continue to put pressure and maintain this pressure.