BCC around female genital cutting (FGC) has historically been limited. Little new communication work has been done in the last 10 to15 years. What communication there is in this area tends to rely heavily upon fear-based messaging and images, and is often small-scale or limited to a single channel.
But two PSI platforms, PSI/Mali and PSI/Guinea, are working hard to address FGC using new approaches that incorporate public opinion leaders, community mobilization and advocacy. While these approaches target women, they place equal emphasis on community leaders and influencers that can help sway public opinion on the practice.
PSI/Mali is currently implementing a multi-channel mass media campaign against FGC, the third of its kind in the country. PSI’s earlier campaigns addressed the belief that FGC is a religiously sanctioned practice and highlighted the consequences of cutting. This latest effort will focus largely upon the value of non-excised women – a group that is widely believed to be sexually insatiable and otherwise immoral in Malian society. The current campaign focuses largely upon radio and TV spots, with supporting print media. Mass media activities are complemented by small-scale advocacy activities targeting religious leaders, including provision of cassette recordings of a well-known imam speaking about the (lack of) relationship between Islam and FGC. PSI/Mali has also developed an IPC toolkit to help health workers reach rural audiences with FGC messages in greater depth. This is no small feat in a country in which more than 90% of women of reproductive age are excised, many religious leaders support the practice, and political forces are often reluctant to oppose religious tenet (Download Mali's baseline study report. NOTE: The report is in French).
PSI/Guinea is also working to address FGC. With rates of FGC similar to those in Mali, and the absence of a law to prohibit the practice, PSI/Guinea uses a mix of radio and television spots, as well as interpersonal communication to initiate discussion with influential community leaders. In 2008, nearly 1,000 leaders benefited from information on the negative impact of FGC through workshops, education sessions and round table discussions. The program hopes to expand through the year 2011, and reach out to community leaders and medical professionals, as well as women 18 to 35.
So what seems to work, when tackling this complex issue?
- Strong collaboration with public sector partners charged with addressing FGC – in the case of Mali, the Ministry of Promotion of Women, Children, and Families.
- Advocacy and community mobilization – especially highly visible events – with local actors in the forefront.
- Always having a contingency plan!
Although PSI’s work in this area has yet to be evaluated (results of an endline survey are expected within the next few months), anecdotal evidence suggests that the campaigns have contributed to a shift in attitudes, as evidenced by greater openness in discussing FGC.
Visit this link for a summary of strategies used to end FGC and a brief discussion of projects in four countries Egypt, Kenya, Senegal, and Uganda. Click here for a collection of data and research on FGC, as well as information on the various approaches used by organizations around the world working to eliminate the practice.