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Creativity in development

August 28, 2010

Creative uses of malaria bed nets..… (courtesy of Bill Brieger)

How then do you start to design a programme to eradicate Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)? A practice which pre-dates Christianity and Islam, and which is deeply associated with tradition, and beliefs surrounding marriage ability.

The image of malaria nets being used to protect vegetables could be said to summarise a lot of why the extensive institutional network of researchers and practitioners working on development exists. You can map out the many factors which cause the spread of malaria, from stagnant water which encourages mosquitoes to bread, to a lack of availability of bed nets, and then design an ‘intervention’ which addresses these different technical and practical factors.

Then you might realise that its not simply enough to provide bed nets, that you need to dig a little deeper into behavioural factors, and also need to educate people on why it is important that the nets are used.

What happens then if even with this information, people decide to still not use the nets for their original purpose?

Que further research, more asking of ‘why?’, after which you hopefully discover a web of causes which point you in the right direction.  But what do you then do if a person states that they have weighed up the risk, and using the net for protecting their vegetables is more important to them than hopefully, maybe, preventing a case of malaria?

In the case of the bed net distribution, you may be able to carry out further education activities, provide more nets, or possibly even partner with a livelihoods programme to address other needs in the community. Numerous programmes exist which, if all the right factors fall into place, possibly, maybe, result in bed nets being used in their intended way.

But what if a father or mother, speaking out of love and wanting the best for their daughter,  states that it is more important for their daughter to be circumcised and accepted into the community, and marriage, than for her to experience sexual pleasure, and have her health protected, where do you go from there?

Of course life, and development, and particularly FGM,  can rarely be so easily framed in such clear cut, or conscious, choices. The reasons behind FGM are varied, complex and perpetuated by diverse individuals and communities, from a village in Africa, to a household in Birmingham or London.

Many excellent organisations do have ideas though on ‘where to go from there’, and have been recognised for their success. This blog was partly set up as a way to communicate with friends and family whilst abroad, but I hope will also be a means to document observations from working in development/human rights in Senegal, and a gradual process of understanding more about the drivers of FGM and evaluating development projects in one small part of the world.

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