'Confronting Female Genital Mutilation: The Role of Youth and ICTs in Changing Africa' by Marie-Hélène Mottin-Sylla and Joëlle Palmieri is a new title from Pambazuka Press. For 25 years campaigners from within and outside Africa have worked on eradicating female genital mutilation. This fascinating short book reports succinctly but in depth on an innovative research and action project among girls and boys in francophone West Africa that explored whether young people’s use of information and communication technology could contribute to the abandonment of female genital mutilation.
The African information society is developing very fast. Information and communications technologies (ICTs) are no longer a novelty. Daily life has changed completely, and many certainties and practices have been modified, especially for youth. One might therefore wonder whether it would be relevant to look at the consequences this could have, in Africa and elsewhere, on how female circumcision is perceived, considered and addressed.
But how is the subject to be examined? The study described in this volume reached the conclusion that in the era of the Internet the abandonment of female genital mutilation (FGM) in Africa is primarily a question of youth, gender and citizenship, which imposes a cross-cutting vision of development. Thus, this work sets out to convey the conviction that putting youth and gender at the centre of development issues, in the era of ICTs, helps speed up the citizenry’s abandonment of FGM.
The book is intended for a scientific and academic readership, researchers specialising in the social sciences and working on issues related to development – gender and development, youth in development, FGM, ICTs and development, citizenship. On the basis of the research findings and recommendations of the ICT–FGM project, the volume shows why it is important to take into account the impacts of the sudden emergence of the African information society on policy. In this regard, it is also expected to engage decision-makers, heads of institutions, parliamentarians and development project managers on the need to decompartmentalise the conventionally fragmented visions of development so that, in view of the penetration of ICTs in francophone West Africa, youth and gender can be placed at the centre of civic and democratic processes.
25 YEARS FOR THE ABANDONMENT OF FGM
What has been the impact of 25 years of coordinated interventions, strategies and policies implemented on the issue of FGM in the world and in Africa, particularly in francophone West Africa? How and by whom has the issue of FGM been addressed? What have been the resultant initiatives and interventions, in terms of policies, strategies and in the field? In what circles: international, regional, sub-regional, national, local, village, community, family, private? Who have been the protagonists, active, and the victims, passive? What methods were used? What have been the results of such methods?
Regarding these issues, we are witnessing the emergence and adoption of a new political and strategic message based on human rights and citizenship, which the digital revolution, that of ICTs, is reinforcing. The purpose of this study is to clarify the conceptual and methodological bases of that message.
10 YEARS OF DIGITAL REVOLUTION
The African information society has been established in francophone Africa for about 10 years. The information ‘revolution’ is now a reality; although, while the customs and practices of the information age4 have since become relatively commonplace, their essential consequences, in terms of impacts on the lives of people and communities, have not been identified by everybody, be they politicians, decision-makers, or the populations, youth, ‘elders’, women and men. How do the new realities of the information society – or, rather, the knowledge society – drastically change, for better and for worse, the development issues? How can they be anticipated or encouraged, in terms of political and strategic planning? How do we formulate and express the visions, concepts and methodologies that these new issues are introducing and imposing? How is the role of the various actors of FGM changing, including those who have been traditionally excluded from the action, such as the so-called unproductive people, including youth, women and those people considered inactive? What changes can be expected from these innovations, in a historical, political, economic, social and cultural context that apparently should be taken into account (Giraud, 2008)?
COMBINING DIFFERENT APPROACHES
In Africa, the practice of FGM, in the final analysis, looks like a magnifying mirror, revealing (among other things) structural, cultural and imaginary changes caused by the major qualitative innovation represented by ICTs. Such innovations should be expected, hoped for, guided and supported for the benefit of the majority, particularly young girls and boys who are already potential elders. This hypothesis allows us to reconsider the vision, policy and practice of FGM from gender, generational, citizenship, democratic and governance perspectives with ‘ICT- sensitive lenses’. How can we use the new reality of ICTs to make significant progress towards the abandonment of FGM in francophone West Africa? How far, why and how can the youth be relied on? What are the likely consequences for gender relations? What can be learned with respect to the promotion of the practice of citizenship? How are we to guide strategic recommendations on the optimal contribution of ICTs to the promotion of the abandonment of FGM in francophone Africa, relying on the youth and encouraging gender equality?
LOOKING FOR CONVERGENCE
The research project entitled ‘Contribution of ICTs to the Abandonment of FGM in Francophone West Africa: The Citizenship Role of Youth’ was implemented by ENDA in 2006-08, with the support of the IDRC, according to a qualitative, collaborative, participatory, transdisciplinary and federative approach. It was conducted experimentally with three youth groups in three communities practising FGM in francophone West Africa that had access to ICTs, in order to find answers to the ques- tions posed. This publication presents the main findings of the research, which was quite thrilling, in terms of the many actors who took part in it and the scope of the vision it culminated in. The research project showed that in the era of the African information society, the abandonment of FGM in Africa will necessarily involve the ownership by the youth of the concept of gender and the globalised citizenship space created by the ICTs, an approach implying a cross-cutting, rather than a fragmented, vision of development.
The report first presents the background to the current issues of FGM, gender and intergenerational relations, citizenship and globalisation, ICTs and the African information society, before discussing the methodology used to conduct the research. It then deals with the problem defined and enriched by the study as a cross-cutting paradigm in which development issues such as FGM, gender, citizenship, youths and ICTs, hitherto treated as separate subjects, are organically interlinked. The next section discusses the consequences of this vision in terms of research approaches. Finally, a summary of the main political and strategic recommendations is proposed.
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* 'Confronting Female Genital Mutilation: The Role of Youth and ICTs in Changing Africa' by Marie-Hélène Mottin-Sylla and Joëlle Palmieri (ISBN: 9780857490315, paperback, £14.95) is published by Pambazuka Press.
* Translated by Mamsaït Jagne.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.