CONVERSION OF CUTTERS

Conversion of traditional cutters is an anti-FGM strategy defined by the WHO as interventions [that] focus on helping cutters stop the practice and instead become agents of change, spreading the anti-FGM message to communities” (WHO, 2011). The strategy aims to provide traditional cutters with alternative sources of income, thus allowing them to ‘drop their knives’.

This strategy takes the form of trainings given to traditional cutters in areas such as farming (Peyton, 2019), baking (UNFPA, World Bank, 2019), entrepreneurship (Hoover, 2015) or any other skill that can provide an income. When they are part of wider programs, the conversion of cutters helps them find a social role and ensures their integration into a new social contract, free from FGM. The strategy rests on the idea that traditional cutters are guardians of tradition and that their conversion greatly benefits the community and the abandonment of FGM.

Traditional cutters are of course at the core of the strategy which has been implemented in countries such as Sierra Leone, The Gambia, Somalia, Tanzania… most frequently by NGOs in collaboration with governmental and international organizations. The programmes vary depending on the location and the implementing partner(s).

Some evidence suggests that this strategy could be useful and efficient in the fight against FGM when associated with other complementary programs. Indeed, in communities where traditional cutters find their main income in this practice, having new opportunities in terms of labor and financial incomes can be key in the decision to practice FGM or not. Moreover, traditional cutters have influence and respectability within their communities and their status makes them particularly reluctant to end the practice. In light of this, their involvement and reconversion appears key to ensure the sustainable abandonment of FGM.

Nevertheless, the conversion of cutters as a strategy has also received it’s fair share of criticism by field officers and other experts who claim that it is not efficient. They argue that traditional cutters pick up their functions once the programs are finished, resulting in unchanged prevalence rates of FGM. (WHO, 2011; Johansen 2013)

The CoP FGM invited its members to share knowledge and best-practices around conversion of traditional cutters as a strategy to end FGM. A discussion on this theme was held between August 18 and September 18, 2020, with the support of the expert Rugiatu Neneh Turay founder and director of Amazonian Initiative Movement (AIM), a Sierra Leonean grass-roots organization who puts the traditional cutters at the centre of their action plan. 

To find out more about this Strategy, you can download the thematic note here, or continue reading further articles in this section. Below you will also find a list of resources on the topic.

Hoover J., 2015, Dropping the knife in The Gambia, Access here

Johansen R. E. B., Nafissatou J., Laverack G. and Leye E, 2013, What Works and what doesn’t: A discussion of popular approaches for the abandonment of FGM, Access here

Peyton N., 2019, Seeking to save money, Sierra Leone village gives up FGM, Access here

UNFPA and World Bank, 2004, Female Genital Mutilation / Cutting in Somalia, Access here

WHO, 2011, Female Genital Mutilation programmes to date: what works and what doesn’t, Access here

“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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