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Ending a Harmful 2,000-Year Old Tradition: A conversation with Molly Melching

Friday, May 17, 2013, 7:00pm - 8:30pm
The Crawford Family Forum 474 South Raymond Avenue Pasadena, CA 91105 Map and directions
A woman sits with her daughter in Touba, a central region of Senegal.
A woman sits with her daughter in Touba, a central region of Senegal.

Molly Melching, a Midwestern girl from Illinois, arrived in the West African nation of Senegal as a twenty-something exchange student in 1974 and has never left. She fell in love with the country, its people and its culture. She became involved in efforts to improve the lives of ordinary Senegalese, particularly those living in the countryside. Her work led her to create Tostan, a program designed to bring education to villagers, and teach them about hygiene, development, and human rights. Eventually the program expanded to include discussion of the centuries-old tradition of female genital cutting.

Understanding the importance of working respectfully within the local culture, Melching implemented a non-judgemental approach that never told women that they should drop the practice; instead, Tostan focused on teaching women that cutting, not evil spirits, was responsible for girls’ experiencing hemorrhaging, infections, infertility, and sometimes death. The program also worked with religious leaders to show that Islam does not require cutting. In 1997, the people of one village collectively renounced the practice. Tostan’s efforts spread; today, some 5,000 Senegalese communities have renounced cutting, and Melching believes within a few years the entire country will be free of the practice. Tostan is now active in eight other West African nations, where nearly 1,000 more communities have said no to cutting.

Join Paul Glickman, KPCC’s Managing Editor, Investigative & Projects, welcomed Molly Melching to the Crawford Family Forum. After the discussion, Melching signed copies of Aimee Molloy’s HarperOne book, however long the night. Copies of the book were on sale in the lobby courtesy of Vroman's Bookstore.

*Due to the sensitive nature of this topic, parts of the conversation may be inappropriate for children under 13. 

Photo Credit (Molly Melching): Magnus Selander