Difficulties in working with traditional cutters

Identifying the traditional FGM practitioners

Members shared the difficulties they have encountered when working with the people who practice FGM and engaging them in the work against the practice. The first difficulty that they stressed is the actual identification of the cutters. In fact, FGM-practitioners have different identifies and are perceived in a specific way in each community where FGM is practiced. In some communities, such as in Sierra Leone, it is easy to identify them, they may even be called by a specific name:

In the Northern part of Sierra Leone we have special names for cutters, also known as “Soweis”. So the name of a woman in the community will tell her what her role is.”  Rugiatu Turay, Amazonian Initiative Movement

However, in other countries, practitioners of FGM operate in secrecy and are less easy to identify. According to members suggested this may be the case in Ethiopia, Kenya or Ghana.

Members stressed that this difference in the perception and identification of cutters influences the way participants are selected by NGOs to be sponsored, given money or skills within conversion projects.

Experience by members suggest that in some communities implementing conversion programmes, participants took advantage of the programmes and received incentives without actually having previously practiced FGM. 

Addressing the true incentives behind the practice

Another difficulty in implementing the conversion of cutters as a strategy against FGM is that it is based on the idea that cutters are motivated by money. Several members pointed out that this is not necessarily the case. Instead, members stressed that FGM practitioners are often motivated by the power and respect that they have in their community. In fact, some members argued that for a number of cutters, practicing FGM is considered a calling.This fact makes it difficult for them to drop the knife if their spiritual beliefs are not addressed, even if they are proposed another livelihood. Members also emphasized that FGM is not just an individual who practices the act and can be given incentives to stop, rather, it is a whole system that needs to be dismantled.

According to a Ugandan member, for example, cutters were trained within a programme and transformed into agents of change but returned to the practice after pressure from the community. She explained that interventions should go beyond what meets the eye and explore the values that lie behind the practice of FGM.

Moreover, Sarah O’Neill, an anthropologist who has worked in Senegal, found in her research that traditional cutters or health workers who practice FGM may stop cutting because of various interventions and sensitization, or even fear of the law, while at the same time keep traditional norms such as the belief that “girls who are cut are cleaner than those who are not” or that the clitoris can harm a baby during child-birth. She stressed that the attitudes and values underlying these practitioners must be thoroughly addressed in order for the system around FGM to be completely deconstructed.

Medicalization of the practice

Another difficulty of working with traditional practitioners of FGM that was raised by CoP members, is the medicalization of the practice. Simply informing communities and traditional cutters of the consequences of FGM is not enough to bring the practice to an end because this may then lead to medicalization, as is currently the case in Kisii, Kenya, for example.

“The Community of Practice on Female Genital Mutilation” is part of the “Building Bridges between Africa and Europe to tackle FGM” project, supported by the “UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on the Elimination of FGM”.
The project is coordinated by AIDOS in partnership with GAMS Belgium.

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