Two years of "Men Standing Up for Gender Equality": Together against FGM/C and CEFM!

Since September 2019, the project partners LESSAN e.V. (main coordination), Femmes Entraide et Autonomie and TERRE DES FEMMES have been working within the framework of the EU co-funded project "Men Standing Up for Gender Equality" for the long-term overcoming of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and child, early and forced marriage (CEFM). A total of 30 men from affected communities in Hamburg, Paris and Berlin were trained as multipliers against gender-based violence. As so-called "CHANGE mediators", they now educate and raise awareness in diaspora communities and shelters for refugees in Germany and France. The innovative aspect of this project: For the first time, only men are taking on a key role in the fight against FGM/C and CEFM and are making a strong stand for an equal society!

Some Highlights of the project:­

Social Media Campaign

Men become role models through their commitment to women's rights- this was also demonstrated by the social media campaign that was jointly presented by the three partner organisations on 9th of November 2021 and featured on Instagram as part of an awareness week. In addition to short videos in which the CHANGE mediators educated about CEFM and FGM/C and talked about their personal experiences, the campaign also distributed portraits of the men from all three cities including crucial statements regarding gender-based violence.

Especially during the Corona pandemic, social media platforms are an important place to raise awareness: The post about CHANGE mediator Ashebir Mekonen (Hamburg) reached a total of 387 accounts on Instagram and the portrait of Ibrahima Tely (Paris) reached 12,400 people on Facebook. CHANGE mediator Rafiu Awolola Olayinka (Berlin) also reported many comments and positive reactions, from both Germany and Nigeria. The campaign's goal of creating more awareness about FGM/C and CEFM internationally was thus fulfilled: Not only in Germany and France, but also in the various countries of origin of the CHANGE mediators, the pictures and videos were able to attract a great deal of attention, stimulate lively discussions and move numerous people!

Behavioural Change Activities

Whether it was a joint restaurant visit, a theme day at school, or an online meeting via Zoom, the CHANGE mediators have been conducting their Behavioural Change Activities (BCAs) since the end of October 2020, educating their communities about the consequences of FGM/C and CEFM. Due to the Corona pandemic and strict contact restrictions, face-to-face meetings could hardly take place: so, the CHANGE mediators had to find their own creative solutions to continue reaching their target audience. Whether with their own TikTok channel, a contribution on their community radio or a self-created webinar- the BCAs could be implemented with a lot of commitment and great ideas despite the new challenges and were successfully completed in mid-July 2021!

Training for key professionals

There is often a lack of contact points, information, and tips on how to deal properly with girls and women affected by FGM/C and CEFM. For this reason, all three partner organisations successfully carried out a total of 18 training sessions for key professionals. The training was aimed at professionals who work in shelters for refugees or in other areas of health, education, and social services and who are in contact with affected or endangered girls and women in their working lives. Not only were the backgrounds, consequences, and legal implications of FGM/C and CEFM dealt with, but there was also an exchange of practical experiences and intervention strategies. The common goal: to be able to better support affected women and girls in the future!

European Exchange Meeting

On 26.06.2021, all CHANGE mediators from Hamburg, Paris and Berlin met again to talk about the past two years. In a protected setting, the men exchanged their experiences as multipliers in the affected communities. There was plenty of room for reflection on their personal successes, but also the challenges they encountered in this sensitive work. In three parallel workshops, such as on "Intergenerational Dialogue: How do I talk to children, youth, and the older generation about FGM/C and CEFM?", the CHANGE mediators also had the opportunity to gain some exciting thematic insights.

International conference

On 30th of June 2021, the successfully implemented project was concluded during a two-hour online conference. With the presentation of the project highlights by the coordinators, several moving speeches by the CHANGE mediators about their work in the communities as well as exciting assessments by experts from politics and society, all those present had the opportunity to learn more about the commitment against FGM/C and CEFM on an international level. In the contributions of Dr. Pierette Herzberger-Fofana MEP (Greens/EFA), patron of the project and substitute member of the Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality, Ms. Lesia Radelicki, cabinet member of the EU Commissioner for Gender Equality Helena Dalli, Ms. Mireille Tsushiminina from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Dr. med. Kouyaté Morissanda, founding member of the Inter-African Committee, it was emphasised that gender justice should no longer be seen as a women's issue only. CHANGE mediator Sajjad Khawari also clarified in his speech: "If women are denied the chance of education and a self-determined life with their own wishes, ideas and goals through early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation, you lose half of society that way!" It is incredibly important for men and women to stand up together against all forms of gender-based violence. This is the only way to bring about a change in thinking.

The project has shown that much already has been achieved. But there is still a lot to be done in the future to overcome FGM/C and CEFM, especially in the long term. That is why we still need such initiatives and projects with committed men who work alongside women to achieve greater gender equality!