Blog by Ann-Marie Wilson, 28 Too Many Executive Director.
One aspect I find exciting and challenging about my journey into the world of aid is its love of jargon! I guess business and psychology, my previous careers, also had their fill of three letter acronyms, but the aid world seems to love them even more. My latest preoccupation is with two: taking FGM (female genital mutilation) to CSW57 (The Commission on the Status of Women) which is being held in New York this week.
So what is CSW? The UN Commission (UNCSW) is the principal global policy making body dedicated to gender equality and the advancement of women. It meets annually to evaluate progress on gender quality; identify emerging issues and changes; set global standards and formulate policies.
I became interested in intervention ‘bodies’ when I met the Executive Director of another UN Body, the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices (IAC) in Ethiopia in 2011 and in London last year, to discuss anti-FGM strategies. I then became excited about the potential for CSW in May 2012 when attending a meeting in Geneva with We Will Speak Out. This was formed to respond to some pretty awful in equality practices in Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo and Liberia as stated in a report ‘Silent No More’. I represented a group of six women, like myself, all who lead anti-violence against women (VAW) ‘causes’ across Africa. There I met 20 other women leaders representing regional or global movements addressing VAW, ranging from HIV Aids work to Intimacy Violence, specialists in student movements to those, like me, standing against harmful cultural practices. We will be presenting with at CSW.
CSW has formal opening sessions and reports from 45 member states. As there are 13 members from Africa and 8 from Western Europe, these 21 countries all form part of our anti-FGM strategy: to end FGM across the 28 countries in Africa where it is still practised and the Diaspora communities including the UK, USA and Europe. CSW57 will hold high level panel discussions on the priority theme, ‘elimination and prevention of all forms of VAW and girls’ (VAWAG). There are also side events organised by non-governmental organisations (NGOs), showcasing key developments in different countries, raising awareness of specific problems and highlighting progress and we presenting at three of these. After a week of updates, UN full negotiations occur in ‘private’ and conclusions and resolutions are formed.
28 Too Many has had a busy initial two years, including carrying out FGM research ‘in’ and out’ of country in our first four FGM practising countries : Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia. We have visited all four countries for research over the last two years, returning from Tanzania in November, where we represented the role of the Church in ending FGM. We are building up a profile for each on the rationales and drivers for FGM; beliefs held by key community actors; potential for agents of change (UN; government; religious bodies including the Church); beliefs and myths surrounding medical complications; the role of literacy, education and employment to change the status of community women. We will share our initial research findings at CSW on 7th and 8th March as we prepare to profile the next six countries in 2013 14. We will also share the academic paper I wrote last year on the parallels of ending foodbinding as applied to ending FGM, which gives hope to ending FGM over the next four to five generations which is published in March in The Journal of Gender Studies.
Apart from sharing information and knowledge, networking with old and new contacts; forming relationships for coalition/consortia working and donor funding, CSW offers the opportunity to lobby for change.
Geographical regional groups meet, and I will meet colleagues from Africa and North America/Europe. After
‘marching’ in London and then hearing global speakers last year on International Women’s Day in London, we will also be excited to mark the day marching in Manhattan!
Advocacy is a key strategic goal of 28 Too Many, and we invest a notable proportion of our time in this activity. We have been members of the Home Office led FGM Forum for the last few years, and are members of the Gender & Development Network. We regularly have key meetings with The Home Office, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO), Department for International Development (DfID) and meet various Ministers, MPs, Peers and government civil servants to influence policy on FGM. We are now being invited to various NGO preparatory meetings, hosted by the Government Equalities Office (GEO). These helped us to shape the agenda of the UK delegation to CSW, made up of GEO, FCO and DfID. 28 Too Many and other NGOs tabled topics which form advice to Ministers on proposed plans. Working with other NGOs enables us to pool expertise, strengthen structures and fill gaps, partner with NGOs from low income countries, and use numeric ‘momentum’ as we work towards a global movement to end VAWAG.
In December, we attended a Cross Government meeting as part of a 2 day CSW event for OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-Operation & Development) donor countries. Here we ensured strategies and messages were aligned across member states; that women’s rights are not eroded further; and plan to collaborate, consult and mobilise NGO support for UN Women, identifying and aligning with allies in the FGM and VAWAG sectors!
FGM is a specific issue in the VAWAG sector, and one that causes horror when the statistics are known: globally affecting 3m women/girls a year (1 every 10 seconds) 3000 girls probably affected annually in the UK. We worked with the Home Office to ensure British girls/women carry a health ‘leaflet/passport’ explaining FGM is illegal
in the UK, and that those aiding a minor to have FGM (in the UK or overseas) will be prosecuted. We are also putting pressure on the medical professional to have the right medical ‘codes’ for ‘FGM complications’, so data can be connected on how prevalent the practice is in the UK. Finally, we would like to ensure all consular/visa offices overseas inform applicants that FGM is illegal in the UK.
Slowly women’s rights are being eroded (CSW 56; Rio + 20) which is indicative of worrying trends at the UN. The theme for CSW57 will be a least as contentious as CSW56, and could result in ‘no conclusion’ or further erosion of hard won rights. CSW57 is an important marker for the tone for debate as the UK hosts the Presidency of the G8 this year and post Millennium Development Goals discussions. We will also work with the FCO on the preventing sexual violence initiative. So whilst my
hopes are high for furthering the rights of women and quickening the end of FGM in Africa and the UK, I am pragmatic! 28 Too Many is in this issue for the long term – so we look for slow solid progress – as every girl escaping this procedure is one more whose rights have been honoured and that’s what it’s really all about.