June 26, 2002 - The Harrisburg Patriot : In Senegal, a victory ; RPCV Molly Melching's effort against genital cutting beginning to make headway

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Senegal: Peace Corps Senegal : The Peace Corps in Senegal: June 26, 2002 - The Harrisburg Patriot : In Senegal, a victory ; RPCV Molly Melching's effort against genital cutting beginning to make headway

By Admin1 (admin) (pool-151-196-121-209.balt.east.verizon.net - on Wednesday, December 17, 2003 - 10:15 am: Edit Post

In Senegal, a victory ; RPCV Molly Melching's effort against genital cutting beginning to make headway

In Senegal, a victory ; RPCV Molly Melching's effort against genital cutting beginning to make headway

In Senegal, a victory ; Effort against genital cutting beginning to make headway

Jun 26, 2002 - The Harrisburg Patriot

Author(s): Georgie Anne Geyer

Molly Melching, an American from rural Danville, Ill., is credited with launching a kind of mini-social revolution in West Africa -- but in her own way, as she will quickly tell you.

At a time when the equality of women, birth control, demographic disasters, clitoridectomy (another term for female genital cutting), condom protection against AIDS and other sexually related issues are again taking center stage in the world, she offers something the interminable arguments of international agencies cannot: Melching has a way to foster positive change in a society.

Visiting Washington this week, the robust Melching, who still has a touch of the beautiful Illinois farmlands about her (it's my home state, too, and I'm prejudiced), explained her methods to a small group of us brought together by the Population Institute. Surely her approach might be of interest to international conferences' incessant talkers and hopeless theorists.

Senegal, on the outer western thumb of West Africa, is by all accounts a charming country -- one that is infinitely more progressive than the poor, suffering, warring countries around it. Molly Melching was drawn there 27 years ago, first to study at the University of Dakar, then as a Peace Corps volunteer; she stayed to marry an equally dedicated Senegalese man, and together they formed a group called Tostan -- in the local language, "breakthrough."

ONE OF THE MAJOR areas where they were going to break through old customs was in the barbaric practice of female genital cutting, or clitoridectomy. Across much of central and northern Africa and even into some parts of Egypt, 8- or 9-year-old girls are tied to a tree in an ancient ceremony that is supposed to keep them pure for marriage.

There, the "cutter," usually an elderly woman from the tribe, proceeds to cut out the outer female organ, the clitoris, which is analogous to the penis in the male. The pain is excruciating; many girls die in or from the practice; and afterward, none can ever experience any sexual enjoyment.

Melching decided to take on this sensitive subject because the women told her that only she could speak out; in the beginning, she stayed away from it. "But one of our biggest mistakes was that we started with women's rights, because the men became resistant," Melching went on. "Then we began to realize that women's rights are human rights. We redid our program, and the men became much more involved as well."

Her program, supported by groups from UNICEF and the American Jewish World Service as well as many others, now involves 488 facilitators and 24,000 students. They go into villages and start with a human rights perspective. They help bring the people together to talk. They discuss problem-solving.

Often when they talk to the village people about health -- especially teaching them about germs and how they can be spread by genital cutting -- the women begin talking about their own lives and seeing practices that they had taken for granted as problems that could be solved through their own actions and will.

"It is a combination of health and human rights," Melching went on, "with human rights being the most powerful element."

SOON, THE PROGRESSIVE president of the country, a scholarly man named Aboulaye Wade (pronounced WAH-dee) who began working against the AIDS contagion as early as 1985, got into the picture. He supported the program against genital cutting, telling Melching, "Consider me your partner."

Meanwhile, most international meetings are fatally crippled by the conservative right in America, which resists -- and is busy destroying -- funding for virtually all family-planning programs because of its obsession about abortion and its distaste for homosexuality.

One example: Recently, in a morally unthinkable coalition, conservative U.S. Christian organizations have joined forces with some of the most retrogressive Islamic governments (Libya, Sudan, Iraq and Iran) to halt the expansion of sexual and political protections for women and children (and homosexuals) at international U.N. conferences. GEORGIE ANNE GEYER is a veteran foreign correspondent.

Some postings on Peace Corps Online are provided to the individual members of this group without permission of the copyright owner for the non-profit purposes of criticism, comment, education, scholarship, and research under the "Fair Use" provisions of U.S. Government copyright laws and they may not be distributed further without permission of the copyright owner. Peace Corps Online does not vouch for the accuracy of the content of the postings, which is the sole responsibility of the copyright holder.

Story Source: The Harrisburg Patriot

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Service; COS - Senegal; Female Genital Mutilaton; Women's Issues



Add a Message

This is a public posting area. Enter your username and password if you have an account. Otherwise, enter your full name as your username and leave the password blank. Your e-mail address is optional.