Young changemaker Salimata Togoloa refuses to accept FGM and child marriage in Mali

My name is Salimata Togoloa and I am 17 years old, currently attending school in grade 12. I grew up in Daoudabougou which is one of the poorest areas of Bamako. When my parents passed away, my siblings and I struggled to maintain a livelihood. Thanks to the sponsorship of the Islamic Relief Mali orphan programme, our lives have regained some stability.

I am grateful to the Islamic Relief Channels of Hope project staff, as they have been such a strong influence in my life. Through their training programmes, I have been made aware of our rights as children and women and am convinced of their cause. I have learnt about the importance of child protection and our teachers have shown us how our religion only preaches wellbeing, compassion and non-violence.  Since then, I have followed this as a guide to conduct awareness training sessions in my community.

Prior to these workshops, I was unaware of my rights as a young woman. Worse yet, I did not know that FGM is a harmful practice, as I had previously considered it as something dictated by our holy book, the Qur’an. Now I know this is not the case, it is a dangerous cultural practice with many damaging consequences. It is so common in our society that it has become normalised. Because of this training from Islamic Relief, I feel like I have become another girl, I now know how different children’s rights really are. I feel like I am enlightened, and I owe so much to the Channels of Hope project. By multiplying such trainings in our communities, we will can eradicate these practices and instil change.

I will transmit this knowledge wherever I can, so that we can stop jeopardising children’s health, progress and future through these harmful and avoidable practices. I was recently elected the president of children’s club at school, and I endeavour to sensitise my friends, parents and community about child rights and the detrimental consequences that FGM entails.

I have conducted seven awareness sessions to sensitise teachers on the importance of girl’s education and to promote the end of physical violence against children at school. Additionally, I have conducted three awareness sessions with parents in our community to raise awareness around the devastating effects of FGM to girls’ lives.

This wasn’t always easy. One case stands out to me the most; in a session I delivered for FGM practitioners and parents, I was rejected point-blank, as they saw me as being westernised, acculturated and disrespectful. Despite this set back, I held on to my determination to be a catalyst of behaviour change. In the long run, I succeeded to convince them via my repeated awareness sessions. Today, five FGM practitioners have become change agents with me and are helping to sensitise others to abandon FGM. This is a huge achievement as this has considerably reduced the practice of FGM in our surrounding community.

The parents who were initially reluctant to keep girls at school in favour of early marriage have begun to stop the practice, and many are helping to sensitise other parents to keep their girls at school. So far, I have convinced 50 parents to do so.

By replicating the knowledge I received with the Islamic Relief training, I have engaged over 100 family chiefs, 150 mothers and 50 school teachers on upholding the dignity of all children, girls and women by ensuring their rights.

After having seen the huge impact of this project on our community, I ask Islamic relief to keep implementing such a project so that everybody can be a channel of hope for children’s bright future. It is true that culture and tradition have much sway in our communities, but as witnessed in the progress of this project in just one year, I believe that together we can end FGM and all types of violence against women and children.