Paula López-Abente Vicente, Fatma Soueid Ahmed, Khadijetou Cheikh Lo
27 February 2019
Let's meet Malika, an innovative tool developed jointly byUNICEF andUNFPA to monitor the change of social norms about Female Genital Mutilation (FMG) in Mauritania through surveys and data collection. Malika seeks to confirm whether the decrease in prevalence observed through theMultiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) and rapid assessment is correct and real; confirm whether the change in the social norm is significant and see to what extent the population deems involving adolescents and young people in the conversations as a decisive point in changing this practice.
According to theWHO, FGM “comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons”. FGM is internationally recognized as a violation of human rights of women, especially girls, since it is almost always carried out on minors. MALIKA, which means “queen” in Arabic, stands for Measuring and Analyzing Linkage between Information Technology Knowledge and Advocacy with adolescents to end FGM.
A prevalent practice in Mauritania, it affected 53.2 percent of girls under 14 and 66.6 percent of women between the age of 15 and 49 in 2015. Since 2011, UNFPA and UNICEF, with other civil society organizations, have been supporting the Mauritanian government to build a joint program to galvanize people to promote the collective abandonment of this practice.
Step one: mainstreaming Malika
In November 2018, we conducted a training and a pilot in Nouakchott prior to mainstreaming Malika into our programming. We selected two regions of convergence for the UN Country Team in Mauritania as part of our new UN Development Assistance Framework. The areas which have a high prevalence of FGM are Hodh El Chargui, located in east Mauritania and Assaba, located in the southern part of the country. Through the District Census, defined at the General Census of the Population and Habitat of 2013, we created a random representative sample of 600 households (300 households in each region). We polled a total of 2,863 people, of which 60 percent were women.
For this exercise, we partnered up with the Ministry of Economy and Finance and National Office of Statistics, the Ministry of Social Affairs, Family and Childhood and the Ministry of Youth and Sports, as well as several NGOs and youth networks. To do so, we trained 15 young women and four team managers (males) to provide them with the necessary knowledge and attitudes that would enable them to efficiently carry out data collection activities in the field.
To collect the data, we used two methodologies. The first methodology involved gathering quantitative data through a survey from the representative sample of households. We had two types of questionnaires, one addressed to the pre-defined households and another individual survey for eligible women between the age of 15 and 49 living in those households. To collect qualitative data that would help us to better determine the persistence of FGM in the communities, we held 19 focus groups with young girls and boys, as well as adult women and men. At the same time, we also had conversations with Imams from these communities. We also invested heavily in building a youth network through these conversations to make sure that old habits don't linger on below the surface and reemerge in a future generation.
We also used smartphones or tablets to collect quantitative and qualitative data, which allows us to obtain relevant data in real-time for operational planning. Because we conduct Malika once a year, we are able to minimize the time and costs of conducting surveys and evaluations that are expensive and not done regularly. In this way, Malika complements theMICS, which are conducted every four years, allowing us to react faster and adjust our programming.
Step two: unveiling and analyzing the results
Out of the 2,863 people that we polled, 72 percent live in rural areas. Forty five percent are under 15 years old and 68 percent of women have not received any form of education. Ninety-seven percent of the respondents confirmed that they are aware of FGM but only 11 percent learned about it in school, while 68 percent heard about it in community events.
Education levels also influence the attitudes towards FGM. For instance, 61.3 percent of women who had at least one daughter had already undergone FGM. This is a very important number for us because 29 percent of the women who were surveyed had undergone FGM because it was their mother’s decision. And of this group, 64 percent had never had access to education.
We also found a correlation between the place of residence as an influencing factor to continue this practice. Fifty two percent of the respondents in rural areas are in favor in comparison to 48 percent that live in urban areas. In fact, 52 percent of women would prefer to keep this practice, stating three main reasons: better feminine hygiene, social recognition and religious needs. Other reasons relate to social norms, namely the perception that FGM is a prerequisite to be part of society.
According to the conversations from the focus groups, 46 percent of the women said that the members of their communities are ready to abandon FGM in part as a result of awareness activities conducted by several NGOs.
Step 3: How to move forward with these conversations
From this exercise, we gathered a few key takeaways that will help move away from the norms that currently support FGM in several communities:
We must consider socio cultural values to be able to strengthen the current strategies to eradicate FGM with the help of the citizens.
We have to consider cultural reasoning when conducting awareness activities, training and communication actions among the different actors in order to stop this trend.
It’s important to deconstruct arguments in connection with Islam and develop a pitch against FGM.
Increase our advocacy efforts and receive more commitments from partners that would encourage abandoning the practice of FGM.
Through Malika, we were able to fully understand that there is still a high prevalence of FGM in these two areas of Mauritania, so we need to continue working. We plan to use the data that we gathered to advocate for the abandonment of this practice through new messages in local languages. We will also adjust our national plan roadmap of interventions on this issue.
Our aim is to take this initiative at the national level through a campaign against FGM. This project has given us an opportunity to share key information with our partners and to to explore avenues to refine our work and to align our new FGM strategy and action plan with recommendations addressed by Malika.
We will continue fighting and protecting our girls!