Posts Tagged ‘Tostan’

Coalition Member Spotlight: Tostan

February 6 is the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) designated by the United Nations to bring awareness to the dangers of FGM and “promote the sanctity of a woman’s autonomy over her body and health.” The World Health Organization estimates that more than 200 million women and girls alive today have been subjected to FGM.  On this day, the Hilton Prize Coalition shines a spotlight on member Tostan, a global organization contributing to the abandonment of FGM as a component of its work to empower rural communities with sustainable development and human rights based education.

“Tostan” means “breakthrough” in the Senegalese language of Wolof. Awarded the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize in 2007, the organization was founded in 1991 by Molly Melching, who had already spent more than a decade living and working in Senegal. Tostan’s flagship offering is the Community Empowerment Program, a three-year, human rights-based educational program offered in local languages that teaches literacy as well as values-deliberation and collective action for community led development. By empowering communities to lead their own development, Tostan has catalyzed a grassroots movement in West Africa for the promotion of human rights and the abandonment of harmful practices, including female genital cutting and child marriage. Tostan’s mission is to empower African communities to bring about sustainable development and positive social transformation based on respect for human rights, and to ensure every person—woman, man, girl, and boy—is able to live a life of dignity. As a result of this respectful, holistic approach, more than 20,000 women have been selected into leadership positions in their communities. More than 4.8 million people live in more than 8000 communities that have publicly declared an end to female genital cutting and child marriage.

Tostan’s unique approach to addressing deeply entrenched social norms and its method of organized diffusion relies on allying with religious leaders and former ritual cutters to speak out publicly about harmful practices and the need to respect the human right to health. The impact has been captured in this video, in which local imam Demba Dwara and cutter Oureye Sall share about their work helping to build the Tostan movement of dignity for all.

Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program is innovative in the following ways. First, it recognizes participants as the agents and architects of community change. Next, it provides a proven strategy for addressing deeply entrenched social norms. It strengthens community members dignity and individual and collective agency. It teaches, reinforces and formalizes leadership and governance skills through Community Management Committees, which are comprised of 17 people (nine of which are women), who often continue managing community issues following the formal program.

The Tostan Training Center, which was launched in 2015, shares Tostan’s model for replicability and regional and global systems change. Since opening to external trainings in March 2015, the Tostan Training Center has served more than 210 participants, representing 81 organizations from 34 countries, including 59 religious leaders. The Tostan Training Center supports grassroots movement builders and activists from which civil society leaders have been trained in Tostan’s content, participatory methodology, human rights approach and movement-building strategies.

By providing high-quality human rights based education and dignity-enhancing leadership skills that advance women and girls and whole communities, Tostan has supported the original and new leaders of the Breakthrough Generation, as well as their historic and brave decisions. This recent video, New Leaders of the Breakthrough Generation, showcases how they are bravely shaping the communities of the future.

(Photos courtesy of Tostan)

About The Hilton Prize Coalition
The Hilton Prize Coalition is an independent alliance of the 22 winners of the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, working together to achieve collective impact. Through three signature programs—the Fellows Program, the Collaborative Models Program and the Storytelling Program—the Coalition leverages the resources, talents and expertise of each of its members to innovate and establish best practices that can be shared with the global NGO and donor communities. Working in more than 170 countries, the Coalition is governed by a board comprised of the leaders of the Prize-winning organizations led by an Executive Committee and a Secretariat, Global Impact.

To learn more about the Hilton Prize Coalition, visit, or contact Follow the Hilton Prize Coalition on Twitter and LinkedIn, and “Like” us on Facebook.

Collaborations in Public Health: International Day to End Obstetric Fistula

May 23 is the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, inaugurated by the United Nations in 2013. This day promotes awareness of obstetric fistula, a preventable condition that disproportionately affects women and girls in developing countries. An obstetric fistula is a hole in the birth canal that is caused by prolonged labor with no medical intervention. In addition to the excruciating pain of the injury itself, women suffering from this condition are left incontinent and often experience shame and isolation from their families and communities due to the social stigma surrounding their inability to control urination and bowel movements. In 2003, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) launched the Campaign to End Fistula, an initiative aimed to increase public action towards treatment and prevention.

Several members of the Hilton Prize Coalition have dedicated programs to eradicate obstetric fistula, and collaboration is a key element in their designs. One such organization is Tostan. Working in six countries in Western Africa, Tostan was awarded the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize in 2007. Tostan’s work focuses on the empowerment of women and girls, child protection and political and economic development. Their community engagement model operates as non-formal education that facilitates community-led development and social progress initiatives.

The organization maintains partnerships alongside local communities, religious leaders and health specialists in the region, having engaged in projects with The Fistula Foundation to provide medical care, including surgery and emotional support to women suffering from obstetric fistula in rural communities. Within the Coalition, Tostan collaborated alongside Hilton Prize Coalition members Amref and Handicap International in Senegal in 2014. The three organizations implemented the Zero Fistula Project, a holistic approach to effectively tackle the issue of obstetric fistula that involved collaboration between hospitals, governmental agencies, and other NGOs in the region. Through this partnership, Tostan reported, more than 600 women were healed and were able to take back their lives.

In Fall 2016, a Hilton Prize Coalition Collaborative Fellow will work alongside Tostan and Coalition member Operation Smile in Senegal for three months, focusing on social reintegration programs for women who have suffered from obstetric fistula. The Fellow will also participate in trainings to replicate this model for Operation Smile’s programs in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Collaborations in public health projects are vital to the development and humanitarian sectors. Obstetric fistula is a cross-cutting issue that intersects health care and early and child marriage, among others. The collaborative work of these Hilton Prize Coalition organizations to provide treatment and education is raising awareness of the issue at a local level, which will in turn eradicate the condition on a larger scale.


(Participants of the 2014 UNFPA Zero Fistula Project; Photo Credit Mathilde Demassiet)

Read Tostan’s latest blog post, “Nothing to Hide: Aissatou Mane’s Path to Fistula Recovery”

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