On Tuesday, September 15, 2020, the final conference of the two-year project Let’s CHANGE (co-financed by the European Union) took place. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the conference was organized online and only implemented live on site in Paris for a small group of people.
The conference was entitled “How to overcome challenges in ending Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the European Union (and beyond)?” and was simultaneously interpreted in English and French.
Direct participation of affected communities
For more than two years, the project partners TERRE DES FEMMES (TDF; Berlin, Germany), Équilibres & Populations (Equipop; Paris, France), Federatie van Somalische Associaties Nederland (FSAN; Amsterdam, Netherlands) and Plan International Deutschland (Plan; Hamburg, Germany) have been working together with the European network End FGM (Brussels, Belgium) to prevent and abandon female genital mutilation in the European Union and beyond. The work is based on the Theory of CHANGE, which has been jointly developed by the project partners. The main characteristic of this approach is the direct participation of multipliers from affected communities, so-called CHANGE Agents and CHANGE Trainers.
The conference marked the end of the project and provided the opportunity to review the joint work of the past two years. After the opening speech by Hélène Bidard, Deputy Mayor of Paris (responsible for gender equality and youth) and Aurélie Gal-Régniez, Managing Director of Equipop, Christa Jakobsson, Policy Officer in the Gender Equality Unit at the European Commission, presented the EU strategy to combat violence against women and girls. Following the project coordinators Charlotte Weil and Carolin Pranz (TDF) provided an overview of the Let's CHANGE project, the Theory of CHANGE and project results.
The keynote speeches were followed by a panel discussion with the CHANGE Agents and Trainers themselves. Various aspects of their work to abandon FGM were presented in concise contributions. It became clear how important it is not only to see FGM as an African problem, but one that must be understood and tackled globally. In addition, the involvement of men and religious leaders in awareness-raising and sensitization work is elementary. The training and sensitization of professionals such as doctors, social workers and midwives is also essential to support those affected and protect girls at risk.
Europe-wide exchange with stakeholders
In three parallel workshops, there was the opportunity for discussions together with the participants of the conference. The workshop topics were:
- The role of key professionals in ending FGM as well as documentation of FGM cases, prosecution and lack of statistics in Europe;
- Care and support services and the challenges in providing holistic support for those affected;
- Community empowerment and how to achieve sustainable change
In addition to the inputs from the CHANGE Agents and Trainers, the conference participants had the opportunity to ask questions, to exchange experiences and discuss issues together.
Evaluation and outlook
During an online evaluation of the conference, many conference participants expressed their views on the groundbreaking work of the Let's CHANGE project and the importance of transnational cooperation, since FGM is a global issue. The direct involvement of affected communities is considered as best practice and shall be implemented in future projects as well.
Sokhna Fall Ba, project coordinator at Equipop and conference host in Paris, concluded the conference with an outlook in which she summarized and emphasized the elementary pillars in the prevention and abandonment of female genital mutilation:
- Awareness raising and sensitization in affected communities and on institutional level;
- Community empowerment and direct involvement of affected communities;
- Funding, implementation and evaluation of prevention and sensitization projects;
- The constant updating of data on FGM;
- Dealing with FGM survivors and those at risk in a non-discriminatory way.
TERRE DES FEMMES will also continue its work closely together with the communities to end female genital mutilation.
We would like to thank all those who contributed to the successful realization of the conference as well as all those who participated in the conference!