Positive experiences of conversion of cutters

Our expert for this discussion, Rugiatu Turay, is the founder and director of Amazonian Initiative Movement (AIM), a Sierra Leonean grass-roots organization which puts the traditional cutters at the centre of their actions.  She insisted that many cutters in Sierra Leone changed and stopped the practice when given access to information and skills that allow them to change their status.

Once a sowei, or cutter, is empowered with the right information, with tangible examples on the negative effects of FGM, she is bound to see reality and agree on the change. Soweis/cutters have been brainwashed to believe in the ancient myths thereby leaving them so vulnerable to liars. They are controlled by myths and accept their job as a religious obligation.”

As a result of the trainings implemented by AIM, cutters in Sierra Leone made public declarations to drop the knife in 2019. When one of them was later contacted by two families to cut their girls, she refused.

Other CoP members shared positive experiences of working with traditional cutters and emphasized the importance of this strategy as part of a sustainable solution to end FGM.

Yacoub Ebnou shared his experience with a project run by the Mauritanian Association for Family Promotion. The organization identified FGM practitioners and trained them as auxiliary midwives. As a result of the project practitioners were given an incentive to stop practicing FGM and former cutters instead went on to contribute to raising awareness of FGM in their communities – their former “clients” – on the dangers of FGM. Recently, the project continued working with former cutters who were taught skills such as sewing, dyeing… In the case of Mauritania these former cutters had been forced to resort to excision because it was their only means of subsistence. With the programme, other alternatives had been offered to them and they confirmed that they no longer practice excision.

The rehabilitation of former cutters as auxiliary midwives or counsellors or in another alternative which gives them a job other than that of the practice of excision is a good thing which will make them change their attitude and stop practicing FGM” Yacoub Ebnou, a member from Mauritania

Bisi Adebayo, from the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices, stressed that alternative income generation for traditional cutters is one of the strategies supported by the IAC because they have seen it work. She stressed that while this strategy is not perfect, there is no perfect strategy when fighting a practice so strongly entrenched and held on to by communities. She emphasized the importance of empowering traditional cutters whilst providing them with alternative income:

Alternative Income Generation provides empowerment and goes beyond just setting the women up in other trades, it involves training to provide skills, providing these women with skills that can turn their lives around and provide them with a means of survival by setting them up in other trades. It turns the cutters into change agents.”

Members argued that training and conversion of traditional practitioners can be an important complement to other strategies and particularly emphasized that information on the harmful effects of FGM alone fails to contribute to its eradication in conservative societies.

“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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