Developing her “value-centred approach”, was the key to success, in changing notions about female circumcision
As a Professor and gender expert, Muthgard Hinkelmann-Toewe has provided an outstanding support to gender equality at national and international level. She has presented gender issues, particularly in relation to violence, and human rights, at world conferences and, in several noted development projects. Muthgard has taught for decades at the Fulda polytechnic in Germany. However, she has also been successful in another, and quite different, arena. Her accomplishments come from her work against clitoridectomy; namely the practice of female genital mutilation [FGM], which is still quite prevalent in certain parts of the world.
She, as a volunteer, has been involved in several projects in Africa, having also got important awards for the improvement achieved by the local women’s communities, in terms of emancipation and access to rights.
One such project is the Fulda-Mosocho Project, which has achieved amazing success by educating and training more people to choose to think about the virtues of this cultural practice. Muthgard’s approach avoids a paternalistic approach, but focuses instead on the needs of the women affected, in concert with cultural considerations at the local level.
Within the Fulda-Mosocho Programme, aiming to eliminate the practice of female genital mutilation, she and the gender experts trained professions like teachers and social pedagogues and furthermore thousands of people for volunteer work – including clan elders, former circumcisers, youth leaders, women's group leaders, parents etc. – step by step to implement gender equality first in their own families and then in their personal environments. Today this has turned into a civil-society movement numbering tens of thousands from the region. To date, more than 16,500 girls have been protected and the effect has rubbed off onto neighbouring regions.
The Project Rationale - Why it’s been a huge success: The success of the project Muthgard initiated is due not only - as people often assume – to effective information on female sexuality being made available, as she maintains: “Educational outreach alone would never suffice to oppose a tradition that is older than any religion.” This custom is still practiced in many places even though the consequences of what many consider a small excision are known to be extremely serious. The women have problems with their self-esteem, with sexuality, pregnancy, and, giving birth. Often, the wounds heal poorly and the scars keep opening up. It was the “value-centred approach” that she developed, which was the key to success. The project is oriented towards the needs of the women affected. Appreciation and esteem of women, which had been lacking up to now, is achieved by reflecting on age-old traditional structures.
The Fulda-Mosocho Project was initiated in 2002 by Prof. Muthgard Hinkelmann-Toewe and is run by Vivd Communication with Women in their Cultures (VividCom), an association founded by Muthgard in 1986. The background for the engagement in the Mosocho region is the particularly widespread practice of female genital circumcision among the Kisii ethnic community. At the outset of the project, and in spite of the ban of the practice in force in Kenya, genital circumcision was the norm for nearly every girl (97.8%) in order to be regarded a full, marriageable member of the Kisii community (“Omoiseke”). The goal of the Fulda-Mosocho Project is to overcome female genital mutilation – a millennia-old practice – in dialogue and in cooperation with the Kisii and consequently to improve the physical and emotional living conditions of women.
The Work of the Project at the Mosocho site: The Project’s intent is to enable people to make the individual decision in favour of the integrity of their daughters, leaving them unhurt and to create an environment in which those who make this decision do not come under pressure. The further education programs, run by social education workers from Fulda, constitute a central element of the work in the Mosocho region; these programs primarily deal with the physical and psychological effects of female genital circumcision, reflect underlying structures and gender relations, and work out strategies for overcoming the practice with program participants. General sexual and gender education, healthy family planning, and AIDS prevention are further important topics of the courses. As there is no hospital in the Mosocho region, general instruction on health matters is also offered within the framework of the project. The first training, which was held from 2002 to 2004, had 210participants – school principles and teachers (50% female / 50% male) – who were so motivated by what they had learned that they had an enormous effect as multipliers disseminating the information within their families, within the classroom, in conversations with parents, in the neighbourhood, at village meetings, and in contact with influential personalities in public life – which demands audacity and courage to stand up for one’s beliefs.