-Ron Lapitan, Community Outreach Coordinator
This week we’re developing the Gender Equality unit of the curriculum for the high schoolers in our Health as Right after school program, which teaches them about developing communities towards a culture of health and human rights.
One social action principle they will learn about is that complete cultural change can only occur with a mutual transformation of both structures and values, and development is incomplete if change only centers on one. For example, 28 African countries practice female genital mutilation (FGM), the painful circumcision of girls’ reproductive organs as a rite of passage into womanhood, leading to several health problems throughout life. Many of these countries have had laws banning this practice for decades, yet it continues for a majority of women because it is a deeply ingrained part of peoples’ family values and social norms.
Another social action principle students will learn about is consultation. When it comes to promoting often contentious ideals such as supporting girls to get their education, to choose when and who they marry, and abolishing practices such as FGM, consultation is a method of engaging universal participation of a community’s members to talk about its own reality, and to make educated decisions based on their desires for the well-being of the place where they live. Consultation creates the needed transformation at the level of values, and ensures that communities are united in implementing changes in culture.
To learn what these principles might look like in practice, the students will do a case study of Tostan, a West-African organization which addresses FGM by starting participatory conversations about FGM with the generality of a community’s members, educating them about its health impacts, engaging them to express their own experiences of gender inequality and learn from the experiences of others, and then trusting in their capacity to make positive decisions for their community once they are educated about the reality of gender issues.
As a result of their participatory models, Tostan boasts:
*3m+ communities that have publicly declared an end to FGM.
*7500+ communities that have publicly declared their daughters will not marry before they are 18.
*20k+ women who have been selected for leadership roles in their communities.
“Women aren’t the problem but the solution. The plight of girls is no more a tragedy than an opportunity.”
-Half the Sky, journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn