Blog by 28 Too Many volunteer Asha Chadeesingh.
Knowledge of and campaigns to end female genital mutilation (FGM) have accelerated to become more popular and well known in recent years. Campaigns by activists and survivors, newspaper reports, members of parliament introducing new policies, and events such as the Girl Summit have brought the contentious issues surrounding FGM to an international level. However there is still a long way to go, and much more to be achieved before an end to this abusive practice can be completed.
One of the key steps to take is engaging UK students in the fight against FGM. During my own experience in March 2014, campaigning to raise awareness of FGM at my university, the London School of Economics (LSE), I was first struck by despite being in an environment of highly intelligent, over-achieving, well-travelled people, the general awareness of FGM was very low, extending little past knowledge of what the acronym stands for. The aim of our campaign was based on this initial level of ignorance, to increase awareness of the practice amongst students on campus.
One of the reasons I believe it is important for students to engage in the campaign against FGM, is due to the freedom and relatively low level of commitments we have in our lives at this time. While we are constantly juggling essay deadlines and may feel like we have no spare time for anything but university work, the reality is that compared to our futures, the majority of us have very few compulsory work hours and no commitments to anyone but ourselves, with no family or children to come home to. This is the part of our lives when we do have the time to engage with an issue we’re passionate about, and stand on the streets campaigning for it. Secondly, most universities provide a great platform for campaign work. Our campaign for example, was done on behalf of the LSESU Amnesty Society. The advantage of working on behalf of a large and well known organisation meant we had a decent budget, and were recognisable to fellow students as a name they already knew. Furthermore, we had the privilege of huge student body to campaign to. We were automatically given a stream of young, sharp minded people to engage with on the issue.
The second reason why it is important for students to engage with the issue of FGM, is because we are the future leaders. The newly launched, Africa led, global campaign ‘The Girl Generation’ aims to end FGM in a generation. For this to happen, it is fundamental that we as students become aware of all the harmful aspects of FGM, as we are that next generation who have the power to end it. The Girl Generation argues that “once the cycle is broken, it is broken forever”. Students are the future nurses, lawyers, teachers, and parents, so if we can enter the world informed about FGM, and how it harms its victims, then we are already one step ahead of the previous generation. While some institutional measures have started to be put in place, such as putting FGM awareness on the PSHE curriculum for schools, and a promise of compulsory training in public sector organisations, there is still a long way to go until anti-FGM policies are diffused across the whole of the British workforce, and are enacted with real, long lasting effects. Educating students on why and how FGM must end will help us become the final push that completes this work.
Finally, UK students in particularly should care about the fight to end FGM because it is a British problem too. Here in the UK, over 20,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk each year, so it is important for students to realise that this is a crime potentially affecting their peers, as well as millions of girls overseas. While The Girl Generation is an Africa led movement, starting its work in Kenya, Burkina Faso and Nigeria, one of its broader aims is to bring stories of change to a global audience, by linking with UK charities as well. The Girl Generation aims to work with the African diaspora in countries like the UK, to support efforts to end FGM in their countries of origin, and this is where UK students can engage with the campaign. For diverse universities like the LSE, with over 150 countries represented on campus, as 49% of its student body are international students, those with ethnic and familial connections to countries where FGM is practiced have the opportunity to learn about FGM, and bring the message back to their communities.
Overall, UK students should engage with the campaign to end FGM because they are part of the generation that has the power to end this harmful practice for good. They have the privileged position of access to resources and a community of young people, and can follow The Girl Generation’s lead, and be part of the global movement that ends FGM in one generation. Furthermore, FGM is undoubtedly a British problem, and therefore strong legislation to prevent it must be put in place and enforced. Students are the future policy makers and leaders of this country, so if we can begin to be educated and informed of the harmful effects of FGM now, then we are closer to continuing and completing an end to FGM.
All of these reasons are what led me to volunteer for 28 Too Many. After participating in a week-long campaign against FGM at university, I discovered how rewarding the work was, and wanted to put more time in. 28 Too Many has enabled me to be a volunteer whilst still meeting the high demands of my university course, by offering a flexible level of commitment to what suits my time constraints, and being understanding of the fact that some parts of term time are busier than others. I’ve also been able to volunteer in a variety of ways, from writing blogs like this to participating in workshops. No matter how much time you have to give or what your strengths are, I would encourage all students to participate in some form of volunteer work. There’s an opportunity out there for everybody to engage with the fight against FGM, and be a part of the generation who helps end it.
You can also learn more about 28 Too Many's work to end FGM and how you can help at www.28toomany.org. You can donate to support our research and campaigns and follow us on Facebook for updates on the global movement to end FGM.
Asha Chadeesingh is studying Economic History at the London School of Economics.