The Governments of Senegal and The Gambia, in partnership with the NGO Safe Hands for Girls, convened the first African Summit on Female Genital Mutilations (FGM) and Child Marriage (CM) on the 16-18 June, 2019 in Dakar, Senegal.

The summit whose theme was “Reinforcing the bridge between Africa and the rest of the world to promote an accelerated implementation of a zero-tolerance policy on FGM and CM”, a major focus of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) brought together 500 participants and high-level officials from 17 countries. The aim was to discuss how far activists, government officials, NGOs, grassroot organizations, the media and individuals have come to ending harmful traditional practices (with special focus on FGM and Early Marriage). Most importantly, the Summit intended to strategize ways of achieving the  agenda.   

I was attending the summit to support the communication. It was inspiring to be in a room where the aim was to promote a cause I believe in. For me it was mostly about learning.

During the Summit, discussions focused on the impact of these harmful, violent, and discriminatory traditional practices imposed on girls, which are still prevalent in some countries on the African continent. Specific focus was put on how to reinforce cross-sectoral and cross-border actions, recognizing that national laws against FGM and Child Marriage alone have not eradicated these harmful practices, which are deeply rooted in cultural norms and often undertaken in the name of religion.

The use of the law as a preventive mechanism to end FGM and child marriage was the topic of a workshop with key legal experts who shared views and perspectives on the legislatures in their countries. During this panel, it was evident that Kenya had most reported cases of FGM and still has pending cases waiting for trial, as compared to Senegal, The Gambia and Guinea Bissau which were also represented in the panel.

The panel that stood out for me the most was the panel on young people and survivors: protecting girls: what impact does the participation of young people and survivors have on the campaign against FGM and CM. The young activist were given the opportunity to share their stories on how they are fighting these practices in their various communities, what is working for them and what they are struggling with. I was particularly struck by the perspective of Ifrah Ahmed, an activist from Somalia. As the country with one of the highest prevalence rates of FGM. I found it particularly interesting to learn about their campaign for legal measures against FGM, as well as the practical strategies they use to protect girls in their communities, such as housing girls at risk. As anti-FGM activists they are facing discrimination and are constantly knocking heads with religious leaders in their communities. 

The panel on Islam, Christianity and FGM brought together religious leaders from countries such as Egypt, Syria, Senegal and The Gambia, who extensively spoke on the stance of religion regarding these harmful practices. All of them strongly affirmed that these acts are not religious. This panel gave the participants a deeper understanding of the wordings of the holy scripts

Other panels were held featuring government officials and UN agencies who presented the progress made so far in various countries, and the commitments they are taking to smoothen the movement and end FGM and child marriage by 2030.

In addition to the panel discussions, participants shared their thoughts on different aspects of accelerating progress in break-out sessions. Three themes were addressed:

  1. Proposal of alternative funding models designed to leverage more resources;
  2. Policies and legislations (common laws as a preventive mechanism): obstacles and solutions;
  3. Data on FGM and CM (overcoming the challenges around the production, accessibility and dissemination).

These groups were tasked to individually device recommendations to the above-mentioned areas. This is shared in the Dakar Declaration.

Below are some of the recommendations and commitments that surfaced during the summit through the different discussions:

  • Governments of the different countries, especially countries with high prevalence rates of FGM and/or CM, should promote and strengthen laws and policies related to eradicating FGM and CM and to promote safer societies for girls and women;
  • Regional commitments are essential to enhance the integration of traditional and religious leaders’ role in mobilizing community level reduction in the practices of FGM and child marriage;
  • Prioritizing resources towards grassroot efforts must be encouraged through funding, coordinating mechanisms.
  • Investing in girls and women is a central part of Africa’s Transformative Agenda 2063 which calls for ending all forms of gender-based violence, including female genital mutilation. 

I left the summit feeling happy about this African led event which had given a large space to survivors and other women, and with the strong conviction that major developments and progress has been registered in the end FGM and CM movement. Nevertheless, conference discussions, recommendations and even laws are not enough, in order for the FGM and CM to be eradicated, more work has to be done in the communities to change the mind-set of people. 

Isatou Jallow is a feminist activist against FGM and one of the co-moderators of the Community of Practice on FGM.

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