Since the start of Tostan’s Community Engagement Programme (CEP), 7,200 communities in Western African in eight different countries have publicly declared to end female genital mutilation and child marriage. An evaluation of these communities 8 to 10 years after declaration found that 77% of these communities had permanently ended the practice of FGM (the report does not state what the extent to which child marriage had also ended). Tostan’s CEP is designed to address social norms and behaviours through a process of ‘active awareness through community sessions’. These sessions are divided into adult and adolescent groups and incorporate local cultural knowledge, songs and proverbs into exercises and games.
CEP meetings provide an opportunity for women and girls to participate in conversations related to their health and wellbeing while involving men and boys. Furthermore, recommendations from community members that the notion of human rights – such as the right to be free from discrimination – should be included in CEP, has meant that women and girls can also advocate for their right to equal opportunity and therefore freedom from FGM and child marriage. Tostan believes the success of CEP is related to its inductive approach which allowed for communities to express priorities and program design to respond accordingly.