In 1983, Morissanda Kouyaté was a 30-year-old doctor working in one of his first jobs out of medical school in a rural clinic in Guinea. One afternoon, five women rushed into the clinic, carrying twin girls in their arms. The twin girls were in critical condition, hemorrhaging and covered in blood. Up until that point, Dr. Kouyaté had never heard of what was then commonly referred to as female circumcision, but is now known as female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C).
“The women explained to me that someone in their town performed FGM on the girls because twins are viewed as a symbol of witchcraft. Everyone in the town knew that this procedure would be done, but no one did anything to stop it. I knew that we had to try to save them,” Dr. Kouyaté recalled.
Dr. Kouyaté and his team did everything they could to save the girls, his wife even donating blood, but the twins were unable to recover from the trauma of the procedure. After their death, Dr. Kouyaté was shaken to the core. In an effort to prevent future deaths, he took three days of personal leave to write a pamphlet on the dangers of female circumcision. It was the first step in this new direction of his life: ending female genital mutilation and all forms of violence against women and girls.
Soon after, Dr. Kouyaté organized a meeting in Dakar, Senegal with representatives from 16 African countries. Together, they formed the Inter-African Committee (IAC) on Harmful Traditional Practices, whose mission is to end traditional practices that endanger the health of women and children throughout Africa.
The more involved Dr. Kouyaté got in the movement, the more resistance he faced. Religious leaders began to target Dr. Kouyaté, believing that religion upheld FGM/C. But Dr. Kouyaté was not deterred. He began to study the Quran, Bible, and other religious texts. He even went to Mecca and spoke to Imams there, confirming his belief that Islam, along with other religions, do not support FGM/C.
As Dr. Kouyaté spent time in small towns throughout Guinea, speaking to individuals who are actively engaged in performing FGM/C, he realized that this practice is driven by men. “As a man, I must be involved in the fight against FGM/C and gender-based violence. Not only me, but all men need to be involved. The practitioners of FGM/C are women, but they tell me that they do this for the men, so that they will have ‘pure’ wives,” Dr. Kouyaté explains. “In a society in which violence against women is normal, men become the clients of mutilated women. Men must raise their voices to say no to FGM/C.”
Finally, after spending two years educating individuals in his hometown on the harmful effects of FGM/C, traditional cutters gathered at a town-hall meeting to put down their knives— a symbol of their agreement to stop the practice of FGM/C.
Dr. Kouyaté has also collaborated with the World Health Organization and the UN. His work reached a pinnacle moment in 2012, when the UN General Assembly passed a resolution calling on all countries to end FGM/C. When the resolution passed, he brought a picture of the twin girls he encountered in Guinea, believing that this milestone was finally a victory for them. “They were my motivation the whole time. I said to them, ‘You won. You finally won’.”
Today, Dr. Kouyaté is the Executive Director of the IAC, and recently partnered with the Vital Voices’ Human Rights team to co-host the Second West Africa Convening to End FGM/C in Conakry, Guinea. The Convening mobilized key stakeholders across sectors who are working to end FGM/C in Mali, Mauritania, Guinea, The Gambia, and Sierra Leone. Allies like Dr. Kouyaté give us hope that ending gender-based violence in our lifetime is possible. Working together with male allies, we are closer to reaching a world in which women live free from violence.
Staff Authored Blog: Rachel Pak, Program Assistant, Human Rights