Wassu-UAB Foundation is the new phase of a humanistic, innovative and anthropological project, initiated in 1987, at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB), as a line of research, transnational and longitudinal over time, pioneer in Spain and directed by Prof. Adriana Kaplan, that progressively focused on the study of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) both in the countries of origin and destination of migrants.
Driven by the will to contribute to the achievement of girls and women's rights, Prof. Adriana Kaplan and her team search for ways to translate the scientific knowledge and experience gathered in the field into an effective, sustainable and respectful methodology for prevention. Due to her integration in FGM/C practicing communities, Prof. Adriana Kaplan comprehended the deep and vital meaning embedding the practice and understood that a preventive approach would not be successful if this cultural value would not be taken into consideration. People's conception of the world should be respected.
In 1999, the Gambian NGO Wassu Gambia Kafo was born as a first institutional effort, seeking the recognition of FGM/C as a public health problem through the governmental authorities. In 2003, the Interdisciplinary Group for the Study and Prevention of Harmful Traditional Practices (IGPS/HTP) was established, consolidating and strengthening the research project. Recognizing its potential, in 2008 Fundació "la Caixa" sponsored the establishment of the Transnational Observatory of Applied Research to New Strategies for the Prevention of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting, harmonizing research and training activities in Spain and in The Gambia.
In 2009, Prof. Adriana Kaplan was awarded the Chair of Social Knowledge Transfer Parc de Recerca-Santander. In 2012, the Wassu-UAB Foundation was born as a strategic social project of the UAB, consolidating the goal of improving maternal and child health and contributing to the empowerment of women and girls through a pioneer methodology of research applied to knowledge transfer for the prevention and care of FGM/C.
Throughout this path, the project has successfully enlarged the scope of knowledge on FGM/C, through applied research, which resulted in several scientific publications. Being on the forefront of preventive interventions, it changed the lives of many people, who are today, empowered to take informed decisions and feel respected in their values and beliefs.
The recognition of the extension and consequences of FGM/C has motivated different approaches to promote its abandonment. However, many of the strategies implemented did not take into account the socio-cultural aspects of the practice, considered as a vital event for building gender and ethnic identities among different communities. By trying to impose a change of behavior starting from Western feminism perspectives that do not match with African reality and their own feminisms, many interventions have been perceived as a form of cultural neo-imperialism and have been rejected, creating strong resistances and, in many cases, counterproductive effects. It was imperative an alternative and respectful approach to promote the eradication of the practice while preserving its cultural value.
Wassu-UAB Foundation's approach responds to this need. Our scientific methodology is built on more than 20 years of research in the field, where we gathered evidence on the social-cultural aspects of the practice (which allowed us to understand how to approach it), its medical implications, as well as the knowledge, attitude and practice (KAP) of the health professionals regarding the issue. Our scientific knowledge is transferred in a culturally sensitive way, emphasizing the harmful consequences of the practice for the health and well-being of girls and women.
Through knowledge transfer, we empower people to take informed decisions, avoiding FGM/C to become the focus of a cultural shock.
"Using force will not bring about change, what will help us is to go round and have a dialogue with the people."
We seek sustainability and ownership, and therefore, institutional alignment is at the core of our intervention. We advocate for FGM/C to be recognized as a public health issue and for it to be integrated in Governmental policies.
In order to increase the impact of our intervention, we target key stakeholders who are strategically positioned not only to promote FGM/C abandonment but also, to provide health care and attention to girls and women affected by the practice, empowering them to be the ones transferring this knowledge to their communities. As knowledge is transferred in cascade, it is multiplied, reaching more and more people. Our comprehensive approach recognizes the importance of training both professionals and students, and therefore we have developed an Academic Curriculum having FGM/C as a cross-curricular subject, now implemented at all medicine, nursing and midwifery schools in The Gambia.
In the last decades, the intensification of transnational migration created a new reality worldwide. Each person travels with a past and an idea of a better future, bringing along beliefs and traditions. Also FGM/C has crossed borders, travelling in the cultural luggage of those who migrate. Due to the density of migratory movements from African countries where FGM/C is practiced, Spain is in a privileged position to investigate this harmful traditional practice. Gambian women living in the Spanish territory have the highest fertility rates, and The Gambia is one of the countries with a higher prevalence of FGM/C, meaning that a significant number of children are at risk of being subjected to the practice.
For this reason, both countries where chosen as the basis of a pioneer research on FGM/C. A longitudinal and circular approach, interconnecting two cultural realities, creates the perfect space for gaining an in-depth knowledge of the roots and meanings of the practice, understanding the best ways to transfer knowledge in order to promote human rights while respecting cultural beliefs, and taking advantage of the synergies emerging from migrant communities as generators of opinion and reference models in their countries of origin.