The "converted" circumcisors of Bangolo

07/12/1998
Press release

Thanks to the field work carried out by Women’s
Rights NGOs for several years, traditional practices
affecting the health of women and young girls, in
particular female circumcision, are gradually being
questioned. After Egypt, Burkina Faso and Guinea
Conakry Ghana, Nigeria and Ivory Coast are now
ready to adopt laws banning these practices. A
change in attitudes is already under way!

Constance Yai is the President of AIDF, the Association
of Women’s rights of Ivory Coast). As she is originally
from Bangolo, she decided to concentrate all her
efforts on this region. In this small town 450 km to
the North-West of Abidjan, she has achieved a real
breakthrough: as a result of her tenacity, 12
circumcisors have formally committed themselves
before the population of Bangolo no longer to practise
genital mutilations.

An indefatigable effort of education. How can this
change in attitude be explained? The Women’s Rights
Association of Ivory Coast and notably its branch in
Bangolo, run by Agnès Guei Bah, a former circumcisor,
has been indefatigable in its efforts to educate not
only young girls who can be circumcised but also
circumcisors. The representatives of AIDF, under the
leadership of Constance Yai, pointed out the risks of
such practices for the health of women and young girls
again and again, especially if these mutilations are
carried out under risky hygiene conditions, as is most
often the case, with simple, sometimes rusty handcrafted
knives or razor blades which have been
successively used for several girls, which of course
increases the risk of spreading the HIV virus.

To help a faster change in attitudes, AIDF has gained
wider access to women’s hospitals in Bangolo where
women are given hygiene advice and where they are
encouraged to come for child delivery. Traditional
ceremonies without surgical treatment have also been
offered as part of this approach, ‘but without too
much confidence’, as Constance Yai admits herself.

The success is obviously not complete, as two very
well-reputed circumcisors in Bangolo, originally from
Korhogo, refused to join the group of ‘converted’
circumcisors. This is a warning for Constance Yai,
whose next target is precisely the town of Korhogoright in the centre of the Muslim country. With the
members of AIDF and the support of some more
progressive religious leaders, she is already preparing
the next awareness campaign which is due to take
place in two months’ time. She has recently also been
given support by the mayor of the town, a support
which she did not have in Bangolo where the
traditional authorities have been very careful to ignore
these initiatives.

An attractive source of income. The progress which
the abandoning of such practices represents, meets
with substantial obstacles, though, such as the ‘retraining’
of former circumcisors losing their only source
of income when they ‘become converted’. Most of
them are in their old age and are no longer able to
into the bush to search for plants necessary for
making remedies, as Marguerite, the daughter of a
converted circumcisor who works for AIDF in Bangalo
notes. Currently every circumcisor receives a big bowl
of rice, one litre of red oil, a white chicken, a ‘big
boubou’ (i.e. a ceremonial boubou) for each young girl
and 5,000 CFA, which corresponds to about US $ 8
The idea of offering material compensation to
circumcisors voluntarily abandoning these traditional
practices, which might seem tempting at first glance,
carries the risk that they may no longer be sincere
about it. Some local NGOs fear that they might only
become converted, because they are lured by the
benefits, not because they are genuinely convinced,
is the case at present.

A new generation refuses to suffer. Constance Yai
resolutely optimist, though, as the change in attitudes
will be imposed by the young girls who have learnt to
stand up against the physical suffering caused by
sexual mutilations, and also traditional childbirths.
They have come to the conclusion now that this
suffering cannot be imposed on them!

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