Young People in Mali Call for the End of Harmful Practices through Performance and Poetry

A student from the center for educational activities of Sévaré reads of poem about female genital mutilation.

I do not agree with cutting

I didn’t choose to be born a woman

So why should I suffer

By this removal that I have to endure?

On International Youth Day, communities around the globe will call for — and create — safe spaces for youth to express themselves, influence decision making, seek confidential health care and information, and call out violations of their human rights. This year, youth highlighted the urgency of ending gender-based violence, female genital mutilation (FGM), and child marriage in a very public space in central Mali.

According to UNFPA, 91 percent of women and girls in Mali ages 15 to 49 have undergone some form of FGM, a practice deeply rooted in the cultural, religious, economic, and social heritage of Malian communities. Child marriage is also a common practice in Mali. UNICEF reports that 1 in 7 girls are married by age 15, and more than half by age 18.

A confluence of factors, including the mass displacement of ethnic groups and ongoing instability, have left women and girls in the Mopti region particularly vulnerable. Policymakers and advocates are working to introduce legislation to prohibit FGM, but sustained community engagement and sensitization is critical. Youth have a central role in advocating for the end of these practices, as they directly suffer the consequences.

In May, more than 200 attendees — among them regional and local leaders, technical experts, and representatives from national and international organizations — gathered in Sévaré, in the Mopti region, for an artistic and cultural competition. The event urged communities to help put an end to gender-based violence and other harmful practices.

Hosted by the Debbo Alafia Consortium in collaboration with the Mopti Regional Directorate for the Promotion of Women, Children, and Families and the Regional Directorate for Culture, the event brought together theater troupes, students, and radio hosts who performed skits and music, recited poetry, and delivered messages in local languages focused on raising awareness of and ending these harmful practices. A five-person panel judged the performances.

Ms. Fatimata Kané, director of the FCI Program of MSH and president of the MSH-CAEB Program Debbo Alafia opened the event.

Debbo Alafia aims to advance the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls in central Mali. Project director Fatimata Kané introduced the event, highlighting the harmful consequences of female genital mutilation, child marriage, and gender-based violence. She called for leaders to publicly denounce these practices and take action to end them.

Watch the short film: Debbo Alafia: Advancing Reproductive Health and Rights in Mali

Led by MSH and local organization CAEB with funding from the Dutch Embassy in Bamako, Debbo Alafia comprises 20 multisectoral, community-based organizations that lead activities to inspire social and behavior change, with the aim of advancing the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls in the Mopti region of central Mali.

Below are two poems written by a student performer, translated from French.

Poem on child marriage

In the name of a tradition, it is unfortunate.

The future of a girl is held hostage

By a selfish and devious society.

Child marriage is a greedy crime.

Despite her premature age,

The fate of a girl is irrevocable

Because the family has already decided

That he is a kind man

And that he will be, for her, a thoughtful husband.

Such is the outcome of the family council

That strikes direly in the ears of the girl

Innocent with a premature face. A girl

That became like a family object.

This is bad news.

The suffering of the marriage is continuous

Against this decision she doesn’t dare flip sides or run

This is how her studies end, sad memory.

And this is how she sees her future stolen.

This is how she is rendered to a life of damnation

She will never know the colors of education.

Child marriage is a combat that we should run to

So that tragedies cease to remain rampant!

Let’s face these marriages without love or feelings

That often drift toward suicide as a sacrament.

Because the bride flees the claws of an undertaker society.

What a sad fate, to look for happiness in death.

Let’s stand up and say no to child marriage.

Let’s end this trading practice

And that no girls be attached anymore

By force to a naked conjugal home.

Poem on female genital mutilation


This is a profanation in the name of a tradition.

In girls’ lives, this is a humiliation.

I do not agree with cutting.

It is a criminal mutilation

Masked as a traditional practice.

The woman won’t have any sensations

The woman becomes a passionless being

She won’t experience the pleasures of intense emotions.

I do not agree with cutting

I didn’t choose to be born a woman

So why should I suffer

By this removal that I have to endure?

I do not agree with cutting

Stop! Stop this disgraceful practice!

Stop violating the woman’s body!

Why does this ritual still exist?

It’s a poorly written ancient tradition.

I do not agree and I say no to cutting

Of innocent girls. They mustn’t endure these atrocities any more.

Spare me, dear responsible authorities

Spare me from all these nameless sufferings

Spare me from the fistula, from tetanus and other demons,

Spare me from a premature death.

I do not agree with cutting

And I denounce this practice throughout the world

That all these girls be freed from this mutilation

So they can grow up in an entire body.

Thus, all of us let’s say no to the practice of cutting.

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