Interview with Ann-Marie Wilson.
On the 1st March Ann-Marie Wilson returned from her trip to East Africa on behalf of 28 Too Many. I interviewed her about the trip and what is being done there to end FGM.
Where did you stay in East Africa and what was the purpose of your trip?
Whilst working in East Africa I stayed in: Kampala, Nairobi, Dar es Salaam and Addis Ababa. Although I stayed in capital cities where prevalence of FGM is typically low, I was able to meet people from across the countries including some from areas where prevalence is high. I was able to share 28 Too Many’s research on FGM and learn about what is being done to prevent FGM and support those whose lives are affected by it.
I also attended the CMS Africa conference in Kenya, where I spoke to 10 Bishops and 40 pastors along with aid workers and representatives from NGOs. It was an unusual and rare opportunity to talk to so many faith workers from across Africa; informing them about FGM, the dangers associated with it, to discuss what can be done to end the practice and generally engage with them in change.
How did you find the research carried out by 28 Too Many was being used? How successful was it? What progress did you see being made?
We found that the research and the country profiles compiled by 28 Too Many were being widely circulated not only amongst those we have direct contact with, but also amongst the organisations they are working with as well. We expected our country profiles to be distributed more narrowly so the fact that they were being circulated widely was good to see. We saw that the country profiles are being used at a program level and being used as training guides for anti-FGM campaigners. The research being utilised as a training tool in this way enabled program staff to inform community elders and program leaders. The trip allowed me to gain insight into how the information is being used in networks and as part of country and regional strategies. Whilst in Nairobi, I met a representative from COVAW (Coalition on Violence Against Women), who had a copy of the Country Profile, marked and covered in notes so that it could be used for training. It was encouraging seeing the practical application that they are being used for.
In Uganda I also saw that there are occupations like bag making that generated income to supports survivors of FGM. I was also contacted by an inspirational women from Nairobi who had six children all girls and had decided to take a stand against FGM. The two eldest girls had FGM and she was considering having the practice carried out on her third eldest. However, her daughters all expressed that they didn’t want any of the other girls to be cut questioning why their mother would want to hurt them. Feeling pressure from her community and family to have FGM carried out on her girls, she eventually found the strength to speak out about the pain and suffering the practice causes. Now, her eldest daughters who were cut are married with their own daughters who have not undergone FGM. The woman that contacted me is now working with young girls and mothers to stop them considering FGM in the future. This shows how stopping FGM for one girl can also bring about a much bigger change and helps the journey towards an FGM free future.
Tell me about the CMS Africa Conference that you spoke at. What was the main purpose of the conference?
Speaking at the CMS Conference gave me the opportunity to inform the attendees about FGM, what has worked well in reducing prevalence rates, challenges to efforts made to stop FGM and to share information across organisations. I met with 130 people from South Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, UK, Tanzania, Congo and Burundi- from 56 organisations in all. The conference acted as a useful way to make and strengthen contacts with in country partners. This will help obtain more detailed information about the practice and what efforts are being made to stop it by organisations at a program level. This in turn will allow us to revaluate which future methods of prevention work best in progressing towards stopping FGM. The pastors and Bishops that attended the conference were shocked by how widely the practice occurs. In Dodoma, for example, where some of our research was carried out, prevalence amongst girls aged 11-14 is as high as 70%. Not everyone realises how deeply entrenched the practice is within communities and how many women and girls are affected by it. That’s why raising awareness at the conference and throughout the East Africa trip was so important.
In the areas that you visited, what are the challenges to ending FGM? Will the reports be changed in the future to address these issues?
The biggest challenge is that FGM is a deeply entrenched practice and within communities where it is practised there is great social pressure to continue it. Many of the myths and attitudes that underpin FGM are such a strong part of community’s traditions and belief systems. Changing these beliefs and attitudes is incredibly difficult and requires understanding of the different drivers for FGM within each community. For example, some communities that believe FGM should be carried out as a form of sacrifice in order to maintain order and prosperity within the community and in other communities FGM is believed to cure a childhood infection in girls. These myths only come to light when talking to people directly but they need to be understood and dispelled for FGM to end.
On a practical level, during my trip, I spent 6 days without power. This experience illustrates the challenges in circulating the reports and sharing information about FGM, especially where people may not have access to technology. Even with the rapid progress being made in technology it cannot be assumed that everybody has reliable access. Therefore we need to consider other ways for people to access the information in the country profiles and make sure that the information reaches all those who could find it useful. One option could be produce condensed versions of the reports that can be shared in different formats. It is important that everyone is able to access our information so that the reports can be circulated, spreading the anti-FGM message to a wider audience.
It is important that our country profiles are produced so that the research and recommendations are useful to different organisations including international and local charities, activists and governments. As we get more feedback on the reports and how they are being used, potential changes to the profiles in the future might mean focusing in on what is most important in making successful interventions to end FGM and what is most useful for those working to end the practice in each country.
28 Too Many is undertaking pioneering work to research FGM and campaign internationally for the end of this harmful practice. You can support our work by making a donation or setting up a standing order. You can also help us by liking 28 Too Many on Facebook and following us on Twitter for regular updates on our work.