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TOSTAN INC.: Dieynaba Kane, former cutter turned advocate for abandonment

Dieynaba Kane is a vocal advocate for the abandonment of female genital cutting (FGC), a practice whose painful consequences she knows better than most, having undergone it herself and having, by her own count, performed it on at least 100 girls over a period of nearly 20 years.

Born in 1955 in the Fouta, a conservative region of northern Senegal, Dieynaba grew up in a Fula village where FGC was an immutable part of life. Among her ethnic community, FGC is a tradition that had existed for centuries before her and would no doubt exist for centuries after. To discuss it openly was not just taboo — it was unthinkable, and any woman who did not have her daughter cut would leave their reputations in tatters.

Much of Dieynaba’s early adult life was shaped by the practice. Her mother, a cutter herself, trained her to follow in her footsteps, and she began performing FGC in 1974 at the age of 19. She would, on average, cut at least two to three girls at a time, and she had the eldest of her three daughters cut at this time as well.

However, after becoming a nurse in 1988, she was confronted with the harmful effects of the practice head-on. The diseases, infections, fistulas, internal bleeding, and complications in childbirth she observed in the women under her care who had been cut deeply troubled her, and this ultimately led her to the conclusion that FGC was harmful and needed to be abandoned. In 1992, she bravely decided to turn her back on the practice, refusing to cut her two younger daughters.

Dieynaba has since become an advocate for wellbeing of women and girls, and the abandonment of FGC, partnering with Tostan in 2003 to raise awareness of its consequences. This prompted her to create an association of former cutters, which received official recognition in 2005, and she played an important role in a public declaration of abandonment in the Fouta in November 2005.

This year, Dieynaba joined a caravan of social mobilization agents who travelled across the Fouta region to raise awareness by bringing communities together for discussions about healthcare and human rights, thanks to support from our partner Orchid Project. She continues to bring attention to the harmful effects of FGC by speaking in public and at family ceremonies (such as weddings and baptisms), and she has been encouraged by the increasing willingness of people to talk more openly about a practice that used to be hidden in the shadows.

Looking ahead, she hopes to deepen her collaboration with Tostan by contributing further to the movement for change growing across Senegal and wider West Africa, and we are excited to work alongside her and many others like her to continue building a future where all women and girls can live safer, healthier lives.

Dieynaba’s story is one of many inspiring examples of social transformation sparked through Tostan.

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