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

It 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 income. When they are part of wider programs, conversion of cutters helps them find a social place and to ensure their integration in 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 regions 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 determinant in the decision to practice FGM or not. Moreover, traditional cutters have influence and respectability within their community and their status make them particularly reluctant to end the practice. In light of this, their involvement and reconversion appears key to ensure sustainable abandonment of FGM.

Nevertheless, conversion of cutters as a strategy has also received its 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 in the centre of their actions. 

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

« La Communauté de pratique sur les mutilations génitales féminines » fait partie du projet « Bâtir des ponts entre l’Afrique et l’Europe pour lutter contre les MGF », soutenu par le « Programme conjoint UNFPA-UNICEF sur l’élimination des MGF ».

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