CHANGE Plus Final Conference on 23rd November 2017 in the European House in Berlin

Change Agents and speakers of the CHANGE Plus Final Conference. Photo: ©  Martin FunckeChange Agents and speakers of the CHANGE Plus Final Conference. Photo: © Martin Funcke

On the 23rd November 2017 the CHANGE Plus partner organizations, CHANGE Agents and Champions, FGM activists, community members, policy makers, key professionals and scientists met on the occasion of the final conference of the EU co-funded CHANGE Plus project. The participants reflected their cooperation of the last two years, talked about their experiences, presented and evaluated results and discussed strategies for the abandonment of female genital mutilation (FGM).

The conference, which was organized by TDF Project Coordinator Charlotte Weil, started with three opening speeches. Laila Wold welcomed the participants in the name of the information office of the European Parliament in Germany. Prof. Godula Kosack, Board Member of TERRE DES FEMMES, introduced the audience into the topic of FGM and handed over to Rakieta Sawadogo Poyga, patron of the CHANGE Plus project and founder of the organization Association Bangr Nooma (ABN). She travelled from Burkina Faso to the conference and talked about her long-time experience in the fight against female genital mutilation.

Anne van Nistelrooij, Policy Officer at the Gender Equality Unit of DG Justice, European Commission, introduced the strategy of the EC relating to gender equality and justice. The fight against gender-based violence and the protection of FGM survivors and girls at risk is one of her five priorities.
Relating to the abandonment of female genital mutilation as a form of gender-based violence EU institutions work in specific focal points:

  • The generation of knowledge
  • Prevention
  • International protection
  • Prosecution
  • The worldwide fight to end FGM

CHANGE Plus with the aim of initiating behaviour change within practising communities uses a preventive approach.

Further Anne van Nistelrooij explained the application process for the funding of projects under the Rights, Equality and Citizenship Program. She gave important notes and motivated to submit proposals.

In the following speech Charlotte Weil, Policy Specialist from TERRE DES FEMMES and Project Coordinator of CHANGE Plus, presented the methodology and aims of the CHANGE Plus project as well as the involved organizations, persons and project activities. She emphasized the importance of the empowerment of multipliers, the dialogue with politicians and other stakeholders. The Lobbying Meeting in the European Parliament on 26th September 2017 marked one highlight in this context.

Anke Gittenaer, working for the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) as Seconded National Expert on gender-based violence, presented the work of the institute and their current research on the prevalence of FGM in European Member States.
EIGE intends to publish the report of the study in 2018.

Following the presentations, two Community Managers, three CHANGE Agents and two CHANGE Champions shared their experiences in a panel discussion. They talked about challenges and lessons learned, gave recommendations and stated political demands.

Fatumata Kromah, CHANGE Champion in Hamburg, afterwards presented the short movie “Amina”, which was developed in the framework of the CHANGE Plus project. The movie was produced in cooperation with the filmmaker Andrea Ianetta.

After the lunch break, the conference guests joined five different Roundtables, which where moderated by diverse experts. The Roundtables offered a platform to work intensively on one particular aspect of FGM and to have more detailed discussions. The participants of the particular Roundtables have been working on different guiding questions and presented the results afterwards in plenary.

Stéphanie Florquin from the organization GAMS in Belgium started to introduce the first Roundtable on the subject “On the Role of Men” with an input about a survey that she conducted within the framework of the EU project “Men speak out'”. In the following discussion the participants agreed that men have to be involved in FGM prevention work, so that FGM doesn't remain a women-specific problem. Education is the key for prevention. In this context the use of different ways of communication, such as art and music, play an important role. The young generation can be reached through social media. Some reasons for the practice of FGM explain among other things the shared responsibility of men in the sustaining of FGM, as virginity and the circumcision of women are requirement for marriage in certain communities. Moreover the working group raised the question how men can get involved without taking leadership positions. This needs to be considered in societies based on patriarchal structures, especially because men often have the power to make decisions.

The second Roundtable “Strategies to Empower Girls and Young Women” was moderated by Mah Tenin Doumbouya, CHANGE Agent from Hamburg. Within the framework of the theatre project “GamBoosa” (Lessan e. V.) she is offering a platform for artistic ways of expression to the youth. Young people develop own plays and have the opportunity to treat complex and sensitive topics like female genital mutilation. For children and young people it is important to have role-models who challenged similar problems and conflicts but could still find their place in society. Especially girls can be empowered to speak out against practices like FGM by projects that strengthen the identity. Mah Tenin Doumbouya is also committed to initiate an inter-generational dialogue.

At the third Roundtable “FGM in the Context of Culture, Religion and Tradition” Zakari Musiru, Imam of the Muslim association “Tawba”, and Mohamed Maiga, CHANGE Agent from Hamburg, shared their knowledge. From the point of view of an Islamic scholar Zakari Musiru explained that neither in Koran nor in Hadith the practice of FGM is legitimated. Therefore the practice of FGM can be explained rather as part of the cultural sphere than out of religion. The participants of the Roundtable agreed that the connecting element of all practising communities is the patriarchal structure of society. One of the main objectives of FGM is to control the sexuality of woman. In addition Mohamed Maiga pointed out that migrants are often perceived as not belonging to mainstream society. In this context traditional practices can play an important role in the sense of creating identity.

The fourth Roundtable “Building Bridges” was moderated by Valentina Fanelli, Project Officer at the Italian partner organisation AIDOS. Further inputs were made by Fatoumata Ibrahima Samaké from Plan international in Mali, associated partner of the CHANGE Plus Project, and Chiara Cosentino from the End FGM EU network.
Building bridges means to make synergies possible. This includes not just a transnational and transcontinental cooperation but also cooperations between different experts and areas.

The last Roundtable “Evaluation of Behaviour Change Activities” was moderated by Prof. Hazel Barrett from the Coventry University, who is responsible for the evaluation of CHANGE Plus. The assessment of behavioural change is a big challenge because there are no standardized methods yet. Prof. Hazel Barrett is not only evaluation the individual’s change, but also the change of the social norm within practising communities. But she emphasized that the change of attitudes and behaviour is a continuous process and the project period of two years is not sufficient.

After a coffee break the results of the Roundtables were compiled in plenary. Maja Wegener, Head of Department from TERRE DES FEMMES, thanked everyone involved in the conference. Dieynaba Ball, CHANGE Agent from France, finished with some closing remarks. Looking back to the last two years of the project she called to a continuing cooperation in the fight against female genital mutilation.

The conference ended with a concert of Sister Fa & Band. The singer Fatou Mandiang Diatta is fighting FGM since many years in Germany and in Senegal, which is her country of origin. Her fight against FGM is part of her song lyrics.

We would like to thank the European Union for co-financing the CHANGE Plus project, the European House for being host of this event, as well as all speakers and participants for the successful conference.