Advice from women of Burkina Faso: Stop the genital cutting of girls

Women-run Listening Clubs in the Sahel actively cooperate with community radios to widen freedom of expression.

In multiple villages in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, women often organise in civil society “listening” clubs which gather to actively listen to and discuss the programmes broadcast by their local radio stations. In IMS’s Sahel programme we have “twinned” these female listening clubs with the local radios and given them support so they themselves can also have a say in choosing the topics for debate, subsequently produced and broadcasted in the communities.

The topics of their choice are every-day challenges in women’s lives – from pregnancies and raising children to poverty, income generating activities, peace/conflict, crime and politics, etc. The women’s listening clubs define what they want to know more about and what they want to discuss with the wider community. They then organise a discussion in their clubs, sometimes with resource-persons invited. The local radio station participates, records, produces and edits the programs (sometimes with the women involved in these processes too). Thereby the women do not only get the opportunity to gain more knowledge on what is important to them, but they also get the opportunity to treat their issues of priority, raise their voices and form part of the public debate in their communities.

A Women Listening Club in Sebba discussing the chosen topic of the day.

Radio Daandé Yaali in Burkina Faso broadcast in the Fulfude Language. Their programs can be heard in the village of Sebba, province of Yagha in Eastern Burkina Faso. In this program, the Women’s Listening Club Leeɓal Rewɓe discuss the practice of female genital mutilation, also known as cutting. According to UNICEF, 76% of the women aged 15-49 have undergone female genital mutilation. The practice was however banned in 1996 and the practice has significantly decreased since then. Among the youngest generation, age 0-14 year, statistics say that 13% have undergone female genital mutilation.   

Transcript in English

(Radio host) Dear brothers and sisters listening, today’s program deals with the cutting of little girls. Little girls’ cutting is a practice that Burkina Faso is trying to end. Cutting has many risks. We will try to evaluate those risks with the women that we have invited today in Sebba; this is a broadcast of Programme Sahel IMS Daande Yaali’s radio. Now we shall attempt to understand what little girls’ cutting is. I will give the floor to Mariama, a member of the Listening Club, to tell us what she understands by little girls’ cutting.

(Woman) According to my understanding, cutting is the practice of cutting off the little girl’s clitoris.

(Host) Well. And you, what can you add to little girls’ cutting according to your understanding?

(Woman) Cutting is when the clitoris of the little girl is cut.

(Host) Well, some call it “wrapping the loincloth” and others “put in the water”, what do you understand by cutting?

(Woman) According to my understanding, it’s the practice of cutting the little girl’s clitoris to prevent her from getting some problems.

(Host) Good, Fanta Bokoum is also with us, she will tell us what she understands by young girls’ cutting. Fanta, you have the floor!

 (Woman) It’s said that cutting is the act of cutting the little girl’s clitoris to prevent her from being frivolous.

 (Host) Good, dear audience of Daande Yaali radio, you heard the definitions that these women gave, so we can keep in mind that cutting is removal the young girl’s clitoris, it’s a part of her body that is taken away. Why are the little girls being cut?

(Woman) Cutting is a custom for us, it is said that a girl who is not cut is impure for prayer and may be sexually insatiable.

(Host) Good, you heard what the women said, that’s what white people call cutting. In your view, what can explain this genital mutilation?

(Woman) According to me, girls are being cut because first it’s our custom, second it has been said that the girl won’t easily get a husband otherwise. That’s what explains the cutting.

(Host) So everyone says it’s a custom.

(Woman) In the past, people said that if a girl is not cut she will be frivolous, she will have problems with delivery, and if a girl is not cut, we notice that she scratches everything between her legs, to calm her down she must be cleaned with salty warm water.

(Host) What do you have to add on the causes of cutting?

(Woman) First it’s our custom, and it is said that she becomes suitable for prayer and it’s said that she will be attracted to men very early.

(Host) And you, what do you think is the reason why young girls are cut in our area?

(Woman) The young girl is cut in our area because it makes her suitable for prayer and if she’s not cut, she will later have difficulties during childbirth and also if she is cut, she will be attracted to men very early.

(Host) Good, and you what do you think?

(Woman) First it is the custom and it’s said that a girl that’s not cut cannot pray, but this belief is about to disappear now.

(Host) Good, dear sisters and brothers listening to Daande Yaali radio, we have heard the reasons of young girls’ cutting in the Yaaga, and for those who have just joined us now we are live today with the Listening Club Leeɓal Rewɓe of Sebba and the programme deals with cutting. We have to bear in mind that cutting is mostly about custom and we all know that it’s not a good thing. Now we are going to ask about the problems that can happen to a cut girl.

(Woman) If a girl is cut, she may contract diseases, for example AIDS, it is possible to lose a lot of blood during the cutting which may cause other diseases such as fistula.

(Host) And you, what do you have to add?

(Woman) A lot of problems would appear, if a girl is cut she will have problems during childbirths, she may lose lot of blood which may cause death, she may contract diseases because it’s the same razor blade that is used to cut many girls and there may be contamination.

(Host) You have the floor, what can you add?

(Woman) The loss of blood, the fistula, and AIDS – all these are risks of cutting.

(Woman) She may have many problems, difficulty in delivery, it may even lead to death.

(Woman) The problems that a girl may encounter during cutting are firstly, if the tool used was contaminated it will contaminate every girl cut with it, she may lose blood during the cutting which may lead to death and may have problems during deliveries.

(Woman) The cut girl may encounter several problems, she may contract diseases during the cutting, and she may have problems during childbirth.

(Host) Good, dear brothers and sisters listening to Daande Yaali radio, today we are talking about young girls’ cutting; you’ve heard the members of the Listening Club, and we are with someone who is well informed about cutting, his name is Boubakar Mamoudou. You’ve heard what has been said about cutting, what do you have to add as you are an expert in the subject?

(Boubakar Mamoudou) Definitely, it’s true that cutting causes a lot of damages to girls. Cutting may cause diseases, because the razor blade is a metal and it is dangerous to use it without great precaution, one may cut another organ and cause other problems. Then a cut woman does not enjoy sex and it may lead her to divorce her husband. Due to childbirth the woman may get fistula and her husband may divorce her, and she won’t get another because of her situation, so cutting may be the source of divorce of a woman, so cutting is evil for women. That’s what I had to add.

(Host) Good, in your comment you talked about a fistulous woman, can you tell us what a fistulous woman is?

(Boubakar Mamoudou) Well, in Fulfulde, we call it “an assembled woman” meaning there has been a laceration between the two orifices of the woman and it may be caused by cutting. So cutting should be banned. If you see a fistulous woman you won’t even need to be closer to a woman, but it’s a practice that tends to disappear in the Yaaga today because 95% or even 99% have abandoned it, there may be isolated cases because today in Burkina Faso cutting is punished. Twenty years of jail and a huge fine. I think that nowadays in the Yaaga, cutting is over. That’s what I had to add.

(Host). Dear brothers and sisters listening to Daande Yaali radio, you’re listening to the Listening Club Leeɓal Rewɓe’s program, listening club of Sebba and the program deals with young girls’ cutting prepared by Programme Sahel IMS and Daande Yaali radio. We are carrying on our program after having defined cutting, pointed out its drawbacks on the little girl. Now, what are the advice you can give to the girls’ mothers listening and to the people who still keep practicing cutting secretly?

(Woman) We have noticed that the practice tends to disappear, but we advise those who still do it to stop because it brings no good to their lives. On the contrary it traumatises them. We’re begging for their understanding and to abandon it.

(Woman) We recommend them to completely abandon cutting because it may cause several problems for the girl. Many who were doing it have stopped and those who haven’t yet should do it. Stop excising these girls because there are bad consequences.

(Woman) Tell the little girls’ parents not to cut their children because there are serious consequences.

(Woman) People must stop, and those who don’t should be reported to the authorities, that’s what I advise.

(Woman) Let’s tell the people to stop cutting their girls for it may cause diseases.

(Host) Dear brothers and sisters listening to Daande Yaali radio, we’re still giving advice to convince them to stop cutting. What do you have to add?

(Woman) We have to keep on sensitising people. The government must help in sensitising and punish anyone caught practicing cutting, hand them a huge fine and a long-term prison sentence.

(Woman) The advice we can give: all women must stop cutting their children.

(Host) Dear sisters and brothers your program is coming to its end but before we will give the floor to Mister Boubakar Mamoudou who has had the chance to participate in many meetings about cutting and to speak to the girls’ mothers. You have the floor Boubakar!  

(Boubakar Mamoudou) Good, dear sisters and brothers from Yaaga and all those who are listening here in Burkina Faso. This is about stopping cutting because it’s evil, it causes many problems in the woman’s future, everyone must advise their peers and know that the government has taken drastic measures for any offender. The father and the mother of the excised girl, the one who does the cutting – all must be jailed and handed a huge fine of millions. Everyone should know that what is said about girls who are not excised is false. Like for example, that they are impure for prayer or sexual vagrancy – all is false. It was ignorance and that’s all. Now that people are definitely aware of the harmful side of cutting it must be stopped, that’s what I had to say.

(Host) Good, thank you Boubakar Mamoudou for your advice, thanks to the members of the Listening Club of Leeɓal Rewɓe Sebba. Well, dear audience, you’ve heard the advice given, so everyone should behave as instructed. We remind that today’s program dealt with young girls’ cutting, radio program by IMS Sahel Programme in collaboration with Daande Yaali radio. Thank you for your attention and may Allah give us the chance to broadcast another program.

Translated by KL Translations LTD

Navigating a changing world: media’s gendered prism

IMS’ media reader on gender and sexuality

Navigating a changing world: media’s gendered prism

IMS’ media reader on gender and sexuality