Kyläkokoontuminen silpomisperinteestä_Sarah Waiswa

What we do

Say it out loud: how do the attitudes change?

Collective declarations as the guiding principles of International Solidarity Foundation’s work.

Human rights work doesn’t yield quick wins, and changing deeply ingrained attitudes is one of the most challenging tasks.

However, that’s precisely what brings results. We have explored various ways to combat female genital mutilation in Kenya and Somaliland, and the outcome is clear: lasting change comes from changing attitudes. That’s why we invest in it.

However, achieving a lasting change in attitudes is a long-term endeavor. Change can only arise when people desire it and believe that others do as well. The latter condition, in particular, is crucial: in practice, individuals assume others will behave in established ways and believe it’s easiest for them to do the same.

Empirical and normative expectations underlie this phenomenon, but to put it simply: if no one within the community raises their voice, can one trust they’re on the right side of change?

Our and other organizations’ declarations might carry weight and justification, but they fall on deaf ears if the local population doesn’t believe that other families within the same community will change their behavior.

We’ve made working towards change within the community and collective declarations to end female genital mutilation our guiding principle. For instance, the public statements of various religious leaders, women’s groups, or other respected figures within the community have a significant impact on others’ actions.

Authentic change must emerge from within the community and happen publicly, not behind closed doors. These are the things we build together with our partners.

How does this work elsewhere?

An international organization based in Senegal, Tostan, has been conducting work based on collective declarations for over twenty years, and through its efforts, more than 8,500 communities have collectively decided to abandon female genital mutilation.

However, the work doesn’t begin with public declarations; it requires thorough groundwork: identifying local influencers, involving them, and having a concrete invitation from the community to initiate the work. The organization’s role is that of a facilitator, ensuring the availability of tools, but the change always starts building from within the community.

Another intriguing example comes from Eritrea, where anti-female genital mutilation work has utilized visible space: residents have put stickers on their home doors, indicating that girls are not subjected to mutilation in that family. This approach has quickly scaled the work across various communities.


  • Eradicating female genital mutilation in an effective and sustainable manner.
  • Creating a public platform where people can collectively address the silenced taboos of the community: female genital mutilation is surrounded by silence and assumptions about others’ behaviors. By establishing public space for alternatives and for people to disassociate from the tradition, we aim to demonstrate that even the quiet ones are not alone in their thoughts.
  • Facilitating the development of women’s stronger agency and position.


  • Change born within the community is proven to be more lasting, making it a worthwhile pursuit.
  • The reduction of female genital mutilation can lead to broader change: complications related to it can serve as barriers in later employment, cause health issues, or lead to pregnancy complications.

    Female genital mutilation is also linked to dropping out of school, so addressing it can create conditions for improving women’s status.
  • The operational model is scalable: it can be implemented in any community willing to critically examine established practices.


  • Sustaining significance: as a way of operating becomes more common, there’s a risk of it becoming routine. There are indications of this in places like Eritrea. That’s why we emphasize creative elements from theater to celebrations in our work.
  • Monitoring commitment is challenging. We can say that X percentage of people are committed to change, but we cannot and do not want to definitively state that it will lead to a proportionate reduction in the practice.