28 October 2016

The role of NGOs in contributing to the reduction of FGM: Case Studies of Togo and Benin

Guest Blog by Ayako Fujihara. 

This paper employs a cross-country comparison of the role of NGOs in advocating an end to FGM, in order to explore what can be done in countries that have legislated against the practice but have seen limited success in enforcement. As of 2015, 25 countries in Africa have legislations or decrees against FGM. Practices in Togo and Benin will be discussed as both countries have seen a significant decline in the prevalence rate of FGM over the past 2 decades.

The success in Togo and Benin of reducing FGM can be highlighted when contrasted to the global average. According to UNICEF, the weighted average rate of women aged 15-19 undergoing FGM across the countries where FGM is known to be taking place was 48% in 1995, with a 7% decline to 41% by 2010 (UNICEF, 2016). In Togo, the rate of women aged 15-49 years who undergo FGM was estimated to be at 50% in 1993 (28TooMany)[i]. This has dropped to an estimated 5 % in the 2013 DHS, and 2%[ii] for women aged 15-19 (Togo DHS, 2013). Though not as radical a change, Benin has also seen success in reducing the prevalence of FGM: the rate has seen a steady decline from 16.8% in 2001 (Benin DHS, 2001) to 7% in 2011, where only 2 % of women between the ages of 15-19 are estimated to have undergone FGM (Benin DHS, 2011).



Togo and Benin are similar in that both border countries that have higher rates of FGM, such as Burkina Faso at an estimated 76% and Nigeria at an estimated 27% in 2013 (WHO, 2015)[iii].


A brief overview of the two countries are given in the following table:




Government type

Presidential Republic

Presidential Republic

Gender Inequality Index[iv]



% population with some secondary education

Female 16.1%,

Male 40.3% (2014)

Female 11.3%

Male 27.0% (2014)

Types of FGM practiced (Togo DHS 2013, Benin DHS 2011)

Flesh removed (62.6%), Sewn closed (15.4%)

Flesh removed (68.9%), Sewn closed (13.1%)

Year of legislation against FGM




Both governments have been supportive of the movement to bring an end to the practice. In Benin, President Mathieu Kerekou suggested 2005 as a deadline for rooting out FGM in the country, setting the ground positively for NGOs striving towards this goal (IPSN, 2005). The Togolese government has also shown support by sponsoring seminars and workshops for excisors, health workers, policy-makers and village women and men (US Archive Togo, 2001).


However, neither law seems to have shown much success on its own in terms of curtailing the prevalence of FGM. Togo’s legislation only saw the arrest of one excisor in 2000 with no information on the conclusion of the case, and in Benin the only proof of a mild effectiveness of the law is that an excisor was jailed for 6 months in 2003 (UN, 2009).


In light of this apparent inefficacy of national laws, the work of NGOs in this area is worth discussing. The WHO’s Regional Office for Africa launched the Regional Plan of Action to Accelerate the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation in 1997 which comprised three phases, a 3 year short-term plan, a medium-term plan for the subsequent 8 years, and finally a 9 year long-term plan. One of the components of the short-term strategy is “Advocacy at the regional, national and community levels”, which includes supporting initiatives by nongovernmental organisations.


Focus of the paper

Two key areas of work by NGOs will be discussed in this paper: outreach to raise public awareness of the laws against FGM and the health consequences of the practice, and the campaign to provide an alternative source of income for the cutters in order to encourage them to permanently stop the practice.



The research has been conducted through a desk review of key documents, since direct interviews with key actors such as government officials and NGO staff were unavailable. The sources include DHS final reports and publications by UNICEF and WHO for key statistics and overviews. Detailed analysis of works by NGOs has included news articles and the organisations’ websites.



Raising awareness

In 1997, a major campaign was started in the regions of Tchamba and Tchaoudjo where the incidence of FGM was particularly high, in order to inform socio-professional groups, including political and administrative groups, traditional and religious authorities, and students about the harmful effects of the practice (US Archive Togo, 2001). This was shortly followed by the legislation against FGM.


An example of NGO work here is the work of the Togolese Association for the Well-Being of the Family (Association Togolaise pour le Bien-Etre Familial), a volunteer-based non-governmental organisation affiliated to the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and part of the Member Associations of IPPF Africa Region (IPPFAR), which organised an educational program in 1999 (US Archive Togo, 2001). A notable aspect of the approach is that they are focused more on the harmful health effects of the practice rather than on the issues of gender equality and human rights. Although the message of human rights is important, it is key to find what would make the cutters resign from the profession in their own will. Furthermore, the campaign also entailed meeting households individually to build trust, raise awareness and facilitate discussions with the village elders, who lay down the customs of communities. Such understanding is important given the nature of FGM in Togo, where FGM is an ethnic rather than religious phenomenon, with women undergoing the practice primarily being from five of Togo’s more than 35 ethnic groups, concentrated in the centre of the country (IRIN, 2008).


Financial support

Microcredit loans have been established in Togo as a strategic means through which NGOs aim to encourage cutters to drop the practice. International Action Against Female Genital Mutilation (INTACT), a German NGO, has been working in the country not only to raise awareness of the issue through means discussed above, but also to implement the microcredit loans. The loans allow cutters to find an alternative source of income, while allowing them to retain the prestige they held as practitioners (DW News, 2013). INTACT cooperates with 7 organisations in Togo which work for the advancement of women, focusing on prefectures with higher prevalence of FGM (Afrik, 2008). Another example of such work is by the NGO Tama’de. The organisation emphasises that they don’t just provide loans to cutters but also to their neighbours too, and lead group projects rather than individual projects, so that they are working with the community as a whole, supporting its transformation into a stronger community that stands against FGM. Education about the harmful effects of FGM is again key –a cutter has claimed that despite the fact she would earn more if she were to return to the profession, she doesn’t intend to because “It is not about the money, but the fact I could kill girls.” (IRIN, 2008)



Raising awareness

Analysing the work in Benin shows that raising awareness can be done through more creative approaches too. For instance, on International Women’s Day 2000, the local chapter of the NGO Women in Law and Development-Africa launched a convention for the elimination of all forms of discrimination towards women. During the event, a well-known female theatre company performed a play that denounced practitioners of FGM/FGC and warned of its health risks (US Archive Benin, 2001). This initiative was launched in collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).


The Norwegian Council for Africa explains that a notable moment in the country for the elimination of the practice was when in 2003 a man called Tampobre, who had previously performed a substantial number of circumcisions in the north-east and south-west of Benin, went on tour to announce that he no longer condoned the practice (IPSN, 2005). This again highlights the importance of convincing the traditionalists in order to achieve a meaningful reduction in the prevalence of FGM.


Established in 1994, Dignite Feminine is another NGO that has been working to raise awareness. Their approach that stands out is its publication of the magazine Dignite Feminine, which focuses on women’s issues. In order to disseminate the information more widely and effectively, the NGO also started radio programmes in national (local) languages broadcasting the content of the magazine for those who do not understand French (Dignite Feminine).


Financial support

Intact’s work on loans has seen success in Benin as well. Between 2000 and 2005, a total of 314 practitioners and others in the profession were persuaded to take up other occupations, which 129 of them proceeded to do, and received loans (IPSN, 2005).


However, the new income from legal activities such as selling crops often provide for income that is lower than what they would have earned had they continued as cutters. Thus some secretly return to cutting. “I cannot tell you how many public declaration ceremonies we have had with women swearing ‘never again’. When we do follow up, we find they are back at it, perhaps not here in Benin where they are known, but they cross the border into Togo where they can continue FGM in anonymity”, explains Scholastique Assegba, president of the Cotonou-based non-profit network Women in Law and Development in Africa. In the course of research for this paper it was not possible to see how many cutters have crossed borders like this or how much of an impact these cutters have given that Togo has had a greater reduction in the rate of FGM. However it does tell us that perhaps informing the practitioners about risks of FGM should be accompanied with financial support if the system is to have a stronger impact in terms of committing the cutters to give up the profession.


Given that practices of FGM and prevalence rates differ between regions, with the ventral and northern prefectures recording high rates of FGM (41% in Borgou, 26% in Alibori) the NGOs in Benin tend to be regionally focused. INTACT, being based abroad, operates with the assistance of local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that are also active in trying to eliminate FGM in order to coordinate better with them and manage resources more efficiently. In Benin, INTACT works with five NGOs: Dignite Feminine, Apem, Moritz, Potal Men and Ti-Winti (IPSN, 2005). For instance, Apem covers the Borgou/Alibori perfecture where they advocate not only women’s health but also education for girls and child nutritional health, seeking a comprehensive approach to ensuring the health of women in affected communities. Dignite Feminie leads the group of NGOs, Prominent Persons and Institutions for a Strong Participation of Women in Decision Making network. It coordinates programmes including research action for the schooling of girl coordinate personnel, collect reports, study and monitor the implementation of initiatives aimed at the elimination of FGM.


Conclusions and Lessons Learnt

It can be concluded from the analysis that the NGOs’ campaigns which include education about the harmful effects of FGM and proposing alternative sources of income to practitioners, have contributed to the reduction of the rate of FGM in Togo and Benin. NGOs such as Intact have focused on areas with high prevalence of FGM in order to effectively manage their campaign. Although it is difficult to give a comprehensive reason as to why Togo has seen a greater reduction in the rate of FGM given both governments had supported the movement against FGM and NGO approaches have been largely similar, in the scope of this research it has been noted that informing the practitioners about risks of FGM has been seen in conjunction with financial support in Togo.



The following points are worth highlighting again as effective approaches to reducing FGM:

·         Success is more likely to be achieved by emphasizing health aspects than human rights

·         FGM is a custom that has been passed down, so build support by the village elders or the prominent figures in the practice

·         Approach communities as a whole rather than only engaging the practitioners

·         Creative approaches through theatre or radios can be effective in communicating the harmful consequences of FGM

·         Increase cooperation between NGOs for better information and know how sharing and monitoring the effectiveness of NGO activities



Afrik, “Appui allemand à la lutte contre l’excision au Togo” (German support for the fight against circumcision) Accessed 15 August 2016



APEM, “Decouvrir l’ONG” Accessed 15 August 2016

Irin News, “BENIN-TOGO: Can microcredit turn FGM/C cutters to new trades?” Accessed 15 August 2016

Dignite Feminine, “Domaines d’Intervention/d’Activites” Accessed 8 July 2016


“Presse” Accessed 8 July 2016



Benin DHS 2011 https://dhsprogram.com/pubs/pdf/FR270/FR270.pdf


DW News, “Fighting Female Genital Mutilation in Africa” Accessed 8 July 2016


IPS News, “RIGHTS-BENIN: 2005 the Year of ‘No More Excisions’” Accessed 9 July 2016



United Nations, 2009, UN Expert Paper: Legislation to address the issue of Female Genital Mutilation Accessed 23 March 2016



US Department of State  , 2001

Benin: Report on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or Female Genital Cutting (FGC)



US Department of State Archive, 2001

Togo: Report on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or Female Genital Cutting (FGC)



28TooMany, “Togo: Key Country Statistics” Accessed 20 May 2016



[i] “Togo: Key Country Statistics”, 28TooMany

[ii] p271, Togo DHS 2013

[iii] Female Genital Mutilation, WHO http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/fgm/prevalence/en/

[iv] http://hdr.undp.org/en/composite/GII