• Families want to be able to decide
    what is best for their daughters.

The history of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) efforts seeking the eradication of the practice taught us that imposing its abandonment is not the path to generate a socio-cultural change. Instead, it creates resistances, leading to its perpetuation in secrecy or even encouraging it.

True change comes from within. It cannot be imposed. Only when people are able to make a real choice, long lasting change is achieved. And real choice can only take place when people are fully informed, can identify the harmful consequences of the practice and acknowledge its negative impact in their lives, respectfully discussing its socio-cultural aspects.

  • Seeking true change, we transfer knowledge.
    They make it real.

    "Left to me alone it will be abandoned, so my own girl child I promise by God's grace it will never happen and I will not stop with my own child, but I will also try my own family, gradually my community, by God's grace it will stop."

    M.S., Medicine student

Following our methodology, knowledge gathered in the field is transferred in cascade to institutions and key social actors, empowering them to be the ones transferring it to their communities. Institutions are strategically positioned for decision-making and advocacy, and therefore must be given access to accurate and up-to-date information. Key social actors are carefully selected for their potential impact in improving the living conditions of girls and women at risk of being subjected to the practice or already suffering its consequences. Experience and research have shown that health, educational and social professionals, due to their proximity, accessibility and universality, are in a privileged position to transfer the knowledge to the communities with a multiplier effect. Community and religious leaders are the decision-makers at community level, and their involvement is critical for the success of interventions.

    "Your approach is different from the others and what makes it different is that you show respect, honor and discipline in your discussions."

    F.C., Circumciser

Core knowledge transfer activities

The increasing migratory movements from Sub-Saharan Africa have created an ethnic reality, a geographic distribution and a size of population that places Spain in a privileged position to work for the prevention of FGM/C. In Wassu-UAB Foundation, we see prevention as all actions raising awareness of the consequences of the practice and changing attitudes and behaviors towards its abandonment, while at the same time, promoting integration and respecting cultural diversity, avoiding stigmatization and the construction of anomic identities which threaten the social harmony. This approach involves the empowerment of girls, women and their families, as well as the construction of intercultural sharing spaces.

  • Working for FGM/C abandonment, respecting cultural diversity.

With this perspective, we work closely with decision makers, advocating for policies and plans to be developed prioritizing a preventive approach in opposition to a police intervention. In an emergency, police intervention is determined by the need to act promptly, as it seeks to avoid damage regardless of the means. Therefore, actions do not take into account the process of individuals, families and communities in relation to the practice, with the risk of violating other fundamental rights and fall on a double victimization.

We also collaborate with institutions and professionals from multiple fields working with migrant populations, providing training and tools for prevention. Health services are a key component of our intervention, but we believe that FGM/C should be addressed from a multidisciplinary perspective and therefore work also with social and educational professionals. However, our studies revealed that, despite dealing with Sub-Saharan populations, professionals lack knowledge on this issue, which undermines their capacity to provide quality care and attention to girls, women and their families.

On one hand, we strive for increasing their understanding of the medical and socio-cultural aspects of FGM/C, helping them to comprehend the points of view and attitudes of the families. On the other hand, we seek to enhance their cultural competence and professional skills in order to carry-on with care and prevention activities. Workshops are designed according to the needs of the participants providing professionals with knowledge, tools and alternatives to enable them to work with the families, with knowledge, respect and sensitivity.

Putting our model into practice, the Badalona case:

Following an action research approach, efforts and resources are concentrated on FGM/C prevention. This preventive work is based on the training of professionals who, working in a coordinated network at the primary health care circuit, follow-up cases of girls at risk at municipal level and promote a positive change of attitudes among families who practice FGM/C. With a holistic perspective, focus is not exclusive on FGM/C; is the well-being of girls and their families that is highlighted.

This method has been evaluated with encouraging results: since its implementation, all girls who travelled to their countries of origin have returned to Spain without having FGM/C performed. It is worth mentioning that, before our intervention, five cases were sent to Court, while after implementing this model, no case has reached that stage. Currently, preventive intervention has become institutionalized in the primary health care sector, involving all professionals participating in this process.

According to UNICEF, The Gambia has a high prevalence of FGM/C: 76.3% (UNICEF MICS, 2010), meaning that 3 out of 4 girls and women are at risk of suffering the consequences of the practice. Since the beginning of our intervention, we work hand in hand with the Government of The Gambia, seeking the recognition of FGM/C as a public health problem. We collaborate with the Office of the Vice-President, Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, and Women's Bureau, as well as international organizations, sharing the results of our studies and providing tools for prevention.

  • A strategy for FGM/C care and prevention.

The dimension of the issue means that Gambian girls and women will need quality health care for decades to come. However, our studies revealed that health care professionals have misconceptions about FGM/C and are highly unaware of its consequences. Many are unable to relate the practice with complications seen in their quotidian work, what hinders their capacity to provide adequate quality care. Others consider the medicalization of FGM/C as a safer alternative to the traditional cutting, with some of them declaring to have performed it during the exercise of their medical tasks.

For this reason, we train health professionals (medical doctors, nurses and midwives) and traditional birth attendants (some of them being circumcisers themselves) on the identification and management of FGM/C related complications. We show the results of our studies in-country, sensitizing them on the negative impact of the practice in their communities. We share tools for prevention, which they can decide to use if willing to promote a positive change of behaviour that leads to FGM/C abandonment.

Acknowledging the cultural value of the practice, trainings follow a participative methodology that promotes a dialogue free of judgments, and where all are invited to share ideas, experiences and beliefs. As a result, each one of the trainings is a unique, meaningful and rewarding experience both for participants and trainers.