Saving the girls from FGM: Inside the African village that finally rejected it

On International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM, we consider how deeply rooted the practice has been in Guinean culture for centuries, with 97% of women having endured it as part of the region's traditional rite of passage. Now after years of collaboration with Plan International, this village proudly takes a stand against it

Hidden deep within the forested region of southeastern Guinea, a group of women from a rural community dance and sing together. This day is historic: after years of hard graft, the village will officially celebrate the abandonment of FGM.

The practice of genital mutilation is deeply rooted in guinean culture, with 97% of women having endured it as part of the region’s traditional forest initiation. In 2007, Plan International Guinea pledged to start a discussion on this issue.

Now after years of discussion, multiple exchanges with authorities and talks with religious leaders and the community cutter, the village has reached this historic point.

‘We are joyful! Joyful about abandoning this harmful practice for all women! We are happy and we are proud!’, the women cheerfully chant.

Today, to mark the change, their daughters will participate in an alternative initiation ceremony. This is much different from what they would have experienced, because for the first time in years, no girls will have their genitals mutilated.

‘Initiating girls in the forest is an ancestral custom here’, says Rachel Kourouma, from the ‘Save Girls from FGM’ project run by Plan International. ‘For centuries, girls have been brought into the forest to be trained and have their genitals cut. It is an essential foundation of our culture. So we decided to keep the initiation tradition, but to remove the mutilation.’

And this strategy has taken off successfully, with over 1,000 girls participating in the new ritual so far. Since launching in 2007, Plan International Guinea’s FGM project has worked with as many as 19 communities to formally abandon female genital cutting.

‘It is the uncut girls that the village is committed to protect from this practice,’ explains Raphael Kourouma, from Plan International. ‘Today’s ceremony does not mean that the work is finished. Every village that gives up FGM is of course a victory. But now, the protection structures that we put in place in the village will ensure that the commitment is respected by all the community, and to act as needed.’

Here we take a glimpse inside the village’s first alternative ceremony…

Reading now