The Unkindest Cut: Tackling FGM in Côte d'Ivoire

Training in Ivory Coast

Around 36% of girls in Cote D’Ivoire suffer female genital mutilation (FGM). IPPF’s Member Association in Cote D’Ivoire is the Association Ivoirienne pour le Bien-Etre Familial (AIBEF).  Florent Kei, Executive Director of AIBEF, talks about the project which is beginning to turn the tide against the practise.

"After the long socio-political crisis in Côte d' Ivoire, the subject of circumcision was not a priority of the Ivorian authorities. But we implemented a project from 2009 to 2012, through IPPF's Innovation Fund, to fight in FGM in the region of Séguéla. It is in the north west of the country, where prevalence was highest at 88%. 

The National Assembly of Côte d' Ivoire passed a law against the perpetrators of this practice in 1999, but it was not applied. We made sure we built awareness of the subject with local authorities, and through the mass media, including talk shows on television, national radio and local radio. The activities had a favourable response. In the last 2 years, the government has begun to arrest and convict excisors in Séguéla and in the city of Katiola, north of Côte d' Ivoire.

Aside from bringing awareness of sensitive issues to the general public we also advocate to end gender-based violence among community and religious leaders as well as the authorities. 

The importance of working with all members of the community lies in the complexity of the subject and in terms of its cultural significance. In communities that practice FGM, older women are influential - they are the ones who are the custodians of the practice. It goes without saying that if these people are not aware and not heavily involved in the fight while highlighting the social and health consequences of the practice , it will be futile. These are the ones who will convince members of the community to abandon the practice . It is the same for excisors – they need to join the fight. In total, all members of the community, whoever they are, must be involved.

The involvement of excisors in this project was not easy. The first problem was identifying them. It was very difficult because the law severely punishes excision. Therefore they didn’t dare speak out.  However, AIBEF used the strategy of Community Health Workers for outreach. And it is only at the end of the second year of project that we managed to identify and recruit excisors. Indeed the message for them was about the consequences of the practice, and secondly, on the criminalization of the practice. So, these 2 related arguments were used to recruit 20 practitioners who subsequently abandoned the practice.

What we have learned from this project is that the practice of female circumcision is done by women, poverty is created by the expense of excision ceremonies, behaviour change is possible through community volunteers and that the right information and training for community leaders and administrative, judicial and political authorities has a huge impact on behaviour change.

In economic terms the people we surveyed in the north west testified that the ceremonies are very expensive. A family would have to save for 2 or 3 years, then these entire savings are spent in a single day of celebration. Subsequently people are destitute, exacerbating their poverty and poverty in society.

Our success includes reducing FGM in the city of Séguéla and in a 10 mile radius and enforcing the law against FGM in Séguéla through arrests and convictions with sentences of at least one year. My advice for other organizations wishing to fight FGM is to make sure you share scientific arguments in terms of health, identifying leaders and resources in the target communities and be able to disseminate messages about the consequences of FGM. Strongly involve communities through outreach activities and, over a period of at least 5 years. After all, we are trying to change practices going back several generations."

AIBEF is committed to combatting gender-based violence. They contributed to the adoption of the law decriminalizing abortion in 1998 and from 1998 to 2002 they worked with IPPF's Innovation Fund to campaign for excisers to abandon FGM in the north east. Their success was in Abidjan, the economic capital of Côte d' Ivoire, by preventing not only circumcision ceremonies, but also early marriages.