Our Selves Our Daughters (Our Daughters for short) is a community-initiated project that uses a dialogue-based model to address Female Genital Cutting (FGC) by exploring the many factors that support or detract from carrying out the procedure, addressing health impacts, and supporting informed decision-making that can lead to prevention. Our Daughters engages with immigrant and refugee women, men and youth from FGC-affected communities living in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. We utilize an iterative process that involves community-based research and education. Upon request from the community the project also provides training for service providers in the social services and healthcare fields. The goal of this training is to enhance service providers’ ability to respond to women who have been affected by FGC in a culturally respectful and responsive manner.
Community Based Research Training
Community Based Research Training
Our Daughters was initiated by an advocate from an FGC affected community who was aware of women’s healthcare needs, but was also confronted by the silence around the practice of FGC in immigrant communities in Canada. In order to generate a dialogue on this controversial topic we conducted a series of consultations with male and female community leaders to learn about their views, seek their guidance, and garner their support. Led by a community member, in 2009 we conducted an initial series of focus groups with women. Since then, we have followed a community-based research approach with three of the largest FGC affected communities in Winnipeg. Currently, we are in the process of conducting research on the feasibility of a ‘multi-cultural’ approach to working on FGC across several immigrant communities.
Upon completion of the initial community assessments we invited participants back to a feedback session to gather further direction for the education to follow. Based on this process we settled on the following objectives:
• To engage women from FGC affected communities in culturally competent education sessions to address FGC,
• To work closely with the women, and allies in their communities, to enhance supports to women affected by FGC,
• To address prevention among daughters,
• To increase the cultural competence of health and social service providers.
The learning approach used is premised on the understanding of dialogical encounters for change, rather than a top-down approach. The women participate in in-depth workshops for a 10 week period. The strong involvement of community members in all stages of the project increases the relevance of and access to the project. Our sessions are conducted in the first languages of the participants or via interpretation.
We conduct in-depth workshops with community women. Groups of an average of 10 to 15 women participate in a 10-week series of 3-hour workshops. The intent of this extensive and intensive approach is to create a safe environment for exploring all aspects of Female Genital Cutting that are relevant to the participants. This year we have added a series for young women, as well.
After several series of workshops in the first community, 4 community members were invited to train as Community Based Researchers. This process resulted in focus groups and education sessions with men and women as well as youth – males and females. These groups came together for a whole community discussion about FGC and community change.
Two women from the other communities involved in the project are engaged in capacity building training that enhances their ability to discuss the complexities of FGC, sexuality, and community change.
Evaluation plays a significant role in the project. While research provides important insights for the benefit of creating an understanding regarding experiences and the community understandings of FGC, evaluation allows us to analyze the implementation and outcomes of our education efforts. In keeping with the communities’ oral traditions, our main approach to evaluation is qualitative. The education sessions are monitored via open dialogue regarding the information shared and the approaches utilized to make the content meaningful to the participants. A focus groups with participants is conducted at the end of each series of workshops. Content of interviews with facilitators and notes from observations are also incorporated into our analysis. The data collected is analyzed and written as reports which are utilized for ongoing planning. In the spirit of teamwork, learnings are continuously discussed among all involved in planning, implementation, and evaluation of the project.
Sustaining the Work:
The project has nurtured relationships that emerged out of the community dialogues related to FGC. The in-depth model of education and the engagement of peer researchers have created opportunities and safe spaces for these conversations. Participants say they have shared their knowledge not only with community members in Winnipeg, but across Canada as well as across continents. A booklet was produced documenting each community’s conversation with the intention of supporting the continuation of the dialogue.
We work with social service and healthcare providers to raise awareness and sensitivity regarding the complexities of FGC as an individual, social, cultural, and political issue. Working with Women and Girls is a document produced under the project to assist service providers. This work will impact the care these professionals provide to women and girls in our communities. We have also published in peer-refereed publications for the benefit of academic and student publics.
The women participating in the Our Daughters project have become more aware of the sexual and reproductive health issues that may be associated with the practice of FGC. Some of the women stated that the safe environment of the workshops allowed them to explore different viewpoints regarding FGC openly and to better form an understanding of the social, cultural, political and individual factors around the practice. Discussions about the healthcare system and accessing care have helped women to advocate for their own health with care providers. The men and young men involved in the project became more aware of females’ perspectives regarding FGC, including gendered power relations. These discussions have opened up a dialogue on the role of men in the perpetuation or abandonment of FGC. Participants share their knowledge with family and friends. Some of our resources are being used in other community projects outside our agency.