In 2007 U.N. organizations, civil society groups and other institutions working to stop female genital mutilation got together and brainstormed a campaign to end the practice in Sudan.
The result was Saleema, a word that translates to complete, to signify that a girl should remain the way she was born.
The campaign has been ramping up recently in its fight against FGM, as the practice is called (it's also referred to as female genital cutting), with extensive media outreach, opening a new dialogue about this once-taboo issue in Sudan. Still, activists here criticized the campaign as being presented in such a way as to appease conservatives and to avoid clashes.
"The name, Saleema, is a vague name in itself in my opinion and this reflects that the campaign is trying to avoid clashes with the extremists who do not want to see FGM eradicated," said Sana Mekkawi, who works at Salmmah Women's Resource Center in Khartoum.
The billboards covering the streets of Khartoum, for example, show celebrities and respected individuals and have the slogan "She is born Saleema, let her grow Saleema," but they do not mention FGM.
"The concept is straightforward, saying no to FGM, but the slogan 'Let every girl born Saleema grow Saleema' does not get this message across," Samah Osman told Women's eNews, adding that the campaign should have referred to FGM in the advertisement. Osman, a recent chemical engineering graduate, is one of many youth who took to Twitter to express their opinions on the campaign as part of a heated day-long discussion that took place on the social media outlet on July 23, during the holy month of Ramadan, when the television advertisements of the campaign are at their peak.
Muzan Al-Neel, a blogger and social media activist, told Women's eNews that when she saw the television advertisement, she had to ask about it.
"When I asked about it and was told it was about circumcision then it vaguely made sense to me," said Al-Neel, adding that the actors in the advertisement were irrelevant to the ad's message. FGM is sometimes called female circumcision.
Some attribute the omission of the term FGM to social conservatism. "The advertisements were done professionally and do not want to clash, although they are already clashing with a large number of people who are attached to old traditions," Al-Wathiq Al-Sadig, a Sudanese filmmaker, told Women's eNews.
Practice Still Legal
Though the Saleema campaign is nationwide and supported by state institutions, FGM is not criminalized by law in Sudan.
In 2010, activists were surprised to find an article banning the practice dropped from the much-awaited Child Law. A bill that prohibits FGM and sets a sentence of a maximum of 10 years of imprisonment for parents if the daughter dies has been in the parliament to be reviewed since 2007, to no avail.
For decades, civil society groups such as Babiker Badri Scientific Association for Women's Studies, based at Ahfad University for Women in Omdurman, the twin city of the capital Khartoum, have been working to combat FGM by focusing on the negative consequences of the practice.
"We used to talk about the harmful sides of FGM and for the longest time, no real change was observed in attitudes and in practice," said Mahasin Ali, who coordinates the FGM project at the organization. "Then we changed our approach and began selling the positive aspects, what is positive about not carrying out FGM on a girl."
Talking to women in different communities made the association, which is involved in the Saleema campaign, begin to realize they needed a new approach and that they had to make the campaign inclusive.
"We had group discussions in communities with women and then we began targeting men at sports and cultural clubs in neighborhoods," said Ali, adding that they also trained minivan and rickshaw drivers so they are able to initiate this discussion with their passengers.
This approach has helped shape the Saleema campaign, which has only recently made its presence more known, though it was launched in 2008. Saleema now is broadening its reach through an intensive media campaign that includes television and radio advertisements as well as billboards plastered in different cities in Sudan.
"Before the media buzz, the campaign was always grassroots," said Batool Abdel-Rahman, a program coordinator at the Saleema campaign unit at the National Council for Child Welfare. "We reached out to hospitals and trained nurses to speak to mothers about FGM to discourage them from doing it to their daughters, we reached out to communities and educated them about FGM."
Abdel-Rahman said they know they've had a breakthrough in a community when they are invited back for a celebration in which the community declares that they will not carry out this practice, and they even sign this claim.
"Over 600 communities have joined the Saleema campaign so far and have signed a document pledging to boycott this practice," said Abdel-Rahman.
FGM is an age-old practice dating to Pharaonic times in Egypt and Sudan. It comes in three types; the least severe being when the clitoral hood and sometimes part of clitoris are removed to the most severe being when all external genitalia are removed, leaving only a small opening for urine and menstrual blood.
The struggle to ban FGM in Sudan began in the 19th century by community leaders. In 1946 the British administration in Sudan created legislation against the severe type of FGM. But this did not end the practice, which affects 88 percent of women ages 15 to 49 in the country, according to UNICEF.
When asked about whether the campaign will be backed by an effort to outlaw the practice, Saleema's Abdel-Rahman said there are positive steps already in place.
"Some states have legislations to ban FGM by law, such as Gedarif and South Kordofan. We encourage that as our center be represented in all states," said Abdel-Rahman.
Previous laws that aimed to ban FGM in Sudan were considered conservative. The 1946 law against FGM, for example, banned the severe type of cutting, but does not ban the other types. Even this limited law was dropped in 1983 and no new law has been brought into effect since then.
29. Uganda 1%
Picture taken on October 2, 2010 shows a woman of the village of Kampala attending a meeting with Margot Wallström, the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Sexual Violence and Leïla Zerougui (both unseen), the Special Representative of the Secretary General in DRC in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. (Gwenn Dubourthoumieu/AFP/Getty Images)
28. Cameroon 1%
A woman prepares a porcupine for the pot in a small Cameroonian village close to to Nyabissam, July 27, 2011. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Getty Images)
27. Niger 2%
In this Wednesday July 18, 2012, photo, Zali Idy,12, poses in her bedroom in the remote village of Hawkantaki, Niger. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
26. Togo 4%
Thousands of women wearing red, a traditional color of mourning, march in protest over the death of opposition figure Etienne Yakanou, in Lome, Togo, Tuesday, May 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Erick Kaglan)
25. Ghana 4%
Women pass through rigorous security checks before being allowed to attend the inauguration of Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama at the Independence Square, Accra in January 7. 2013. (PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images)
24. Iraq 8%
Muslim Shiites women pray at shrine of Imam Abbas, one of Shiite Islam's most revered figures, during the Shaabaniya ceremony commemorating the birth of Imam al-Mahdi, the 12th holiest figure for Shiite Muslims, in the central Iraqi city of Karbala, on July 24, 2013. (AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)
23. Benin 13%
Women dance as Pope Benedict XVI leaves Saint Rita's Parish in Cotonou, on November 19, 2011. (ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images)
22. United Republic Of Tanzania 15%
A local woman walks by a shop in Stone Town in Zanzibar on January 7, 2013. (GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)
21. Yemen 23%
Yemeni girls appear through holes in a big national flag as they march during a parade marking the second anniversary of the revolution in Sanaa, Yemen, Monday, Feb. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)
20. Central African Republic 24%
Women protest through the streets of Bangui against the conflict in their country on December 28, 2012. (SIA KAMBOU/AFP/Getty Images)
19. Senegal 26%
'Thiantacounes' women, affiliated to the Mouride Muslim brotherood, stage a protest on October 19, 2012 outside Dakar's prison, asking for the release of their leader Sheikh Bethio Thioune. Sheikh Bethio Thioune who was arrested in April 2012 for conspiracy to murder was transferred from Thies to Dakar. (SEYLLOU/AFP/Getty Images)
18. Nigeria 27%
A woman stands at the market in Maiduguri capital of Borno state on June 6, 2013. (Quentin Leboucher/AFP/Getty Images)
17. Kenya 27%
A woman prays as thousands of Kenyans took part in a peace rally at the Uhuru Park in Nairobi on February 23, 2013. (Jennifer Huxta/AFP/Getty Images)
16. Cote d'Ivoire 38%
A woman sells some sugar in a street market in Abobo, suburb of Abidjan on July 9, 2013, on the first day of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan in Abidjan. (ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images)
15. Chad 44%
In this Nov. 4, 2012 photo, women tend to baby Zara Mahamat, who is being treated for malnutrition, at a nutritional health clinic run by Action Against Hunger with the support of UNICEF, in Mao, Chad. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
14. Guinea-Bissau 50%
In this May 25, 2012 photo, pregnant, married teenager Aissato Sanha is examined by head midwife Maria Antoneta Cabral Barbosa at the regional hospital in Gabu, Guinea-Bissau. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
13. Liberia 66%
A woman holds a child in her arms as she walks in front of flooded houses following torrential rains in Monrovia on July 8, 2013.(STR/AFP/Getty Images)
12. Mauritania 69%
Women belonging to movements and associations supporting the government protest on June 27, 2012 in Nouakchott to show their allegiance to President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz as the opposition has been calling for him to step down. (AFP/GettyImages)
11. Ethiopia 74%
Ethiopian women beat their breasts and cry as they pay their respects to the body of late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, at the national palace in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Saturday, Sept. 1, 2012. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
10. Burkina Faso 76%
A woman holds on January 24, 2013 a bowl and plate while walking in a refugee camp set in Menteao, near the Malian border. (KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
9. Gambia 76%
Deputy prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Fatou Bensouda of Gambia gives a press conference on March 16, 2011 in Dakar. (SEYLLOU DIALLO/AFP/Getty Images)
8. Sudan 88%
In this photo taken Monday, May 13, 2013 and released by the United Nations African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), Sick women and children wait to be treated at a hospital in El Sereif village, North Darfur, Sudan. (AP Photo/UNAMID, Albert Gonzalez Farran)
7. Sierra Leone 88%
In this Nov. 19, 2012 photo, Fatmata, 26, looks towards her partner, Ibrahim, 33, the father of her four children, as he argues with her angry relatives in the room they share in Freetown, Sierra Leone. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
6. Mali 89%
A woman walks in a street destroyed after an attack on February 27, 2013 in Gao. (JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images)
5. Eritrea 89%
This picture taken 10 February 2007 shows Eritrean women in Massawa march in honour of martyred fighters on the 17th anniversary of its liberation from Ethiopia. (PETER MARTELL/AFP/Getty Images)
4. Egypt 91%
A woman sells small items in an alleyway on the first day of Ramadan, the sacred holy month for Muslims where many will fast from sun-up to sun-down on July 10, 2013 in Cairo, Egypt. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
3. Djibouti 93%
A Djiboutian woman leaves the voting booth to cast her vote in presidential elections on April 8,2011 in Djibouti. (SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images)
2. Guinea 96%
Women cry as they attend on March 8, 2013 in Conakry, a funeral service for protesters killed by Guinea's police forces in recent clashes. (CELLOU BINANI/AFP/Getty Images)
1. Somalia 98%
Somali women walk over dead bodies covered by blankets after a suspected suicide bomber rammed a car laden with explosives into an armoured convoy of African Union troops in Mogadishu on July 12, 2013. (Mohamed Abdiwahab/AFP/Getty Images)