Guest blog by 28 Too Many volunteer Asha Chadeesingh.
On Thursday 5th February, as a part of LSESU Amnesty International’s Gender Equality Week, I arranged an event with 28 Too Many, held at the London School of Economics and Political Science. The event was titled ‘How do we end FGM?’ with the aim of the event being to bring awareness to students of LSE of what can be done to achieve an end to FGM, and reach the goal of the 6th February, International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM. The workshop was divided into what NGO’s like 28 Too Many can do to reach an end to FGM, in terms of policy making, and working with the government, and what individuals can do to bring campaigning against FGM into their own fields. Louise Robertson, Communications Manager at 28 Too Many came to speak on behalf of the organisation, and Ebru Sahin, who incorporated FGM and her work with 28 Too Many into her degree dissertation, came to speak about bringing campaigning into other disciplines. We were also extremely fortunate to have Hoda Ali, a survivor of FGM, speak at the event as well, to share her personal experience and provide a demonstration as to why achieving an end to FGM is so important.
The workshop began with a presentation by Louise about what FGM is, and the Louise explained how one key feature of being an NGO is policy and advocacy work to create a supportive environment for change, involving close work with the Department for International Development, the Home Office and other government departments in the UK and with governments in other countries. Advocacy work is about grabbing any opportunity to talk to people, and get them on board with the fight against FGM, and Louise gave us an example by telling us how the founder of 28 Too Many, Dr Ann Marie Wilson, met someone who worked in the Attorney General’s Office in Australia on the plane on her holiday in Sydney and their conversation on the plane led to 28 Too Many presenting at an interdepartmental meeting on FGM between government officials in Canberra. practice has physically and psychologically on women and girls. She then spoke about her work at 28 Too Many, and how NGO’s can drive change. Louise began by explaining what 28 Too Many does, being a primarily research based organisation, that focuses on producing research profiles on countries with a high practice of FGM, and then taking that information to those countries. She explained the challenge of this and that governments of these countries may have other priorities but that a part of 28 Too Many’s and other NGO’s work is to keep persisting and persuading policy makers about the harm of FGM and supporting local initiatives to end the practice.impact the
Louise also talked about the importance of forming networks and campaign work. In recent years this has achieved new levels of success, with the UK government allocating £35 million to ending FGM, making the UK the largest donor for anti-FGM work.
One issue that often arises when discussing FGM is it’s relation to religion. FGM is not a requirement of any religion, and is not mentioned in any Holy Book, so when campaigning Louise talked about the importance of working with faith leaders, and getting them to speak out against the practice, as in communities within the UK and Africa they can often have huge influence and persuasion. When it comes to doing advocacy work within Africa, Louise talked about how 28 Too Many supports local projects, such as their partnering with a safe house for girls in Tanzania, which can provide housing for up to 80 girls in need of protection from FGM.
One key part of Louise’s’ talk which stuck out to me, when she discussed how 28 Too Many works with local projects in Africa, was the role of the patriarchy in FGM communities and the challenge of breaking this down. In some small towns and villages, being a woman who carries out the cutting is sometimes the only way for women to achieve economic and social status. Therefore, to achieve an end to FGM it is important to understand these local circumstances and work with them accordingly. Louise told us the successful story of a one group of Sowei in Sierra Leone who were women who had gained high standing in their community due to role in traditional practices and being ‘cutters’. After undergoing an educational course with NGO Masanga Education Assistance (MEA) on the harmful effects of FGM, they had “put down their basket”, their basket being the equipment they would use when they carry out FGM, and carried on as group without the practice.
We then heard from Ebru Sahin, a student of Communications Studies whose bachelor’s degree dissertation was a photo documentary highlighting the practice of FGM, and the importance of ending it. She explained how she was inspired to produce her dissertation on this subject, as she wanted to produce something meaningful. Having grown up in Germany, she watched the film ‘Desert Flower’ and was therefore aware of FGM at an earlier age than many others of her generation who had grown up in the UK. Ebru explained how she was interested in how media has engaged with the topic of FGM, and wanted to produce a photo documentary to portray what FGM was, how it was being fought, and why this is so important. Ebru used the white ribbon throughout her photo documentary, the symbol against female violence, because she believes the ribbon deserves more attention and awareness as a symbol against gender based violence. Ebru passed around her completed dissertation; a book containing photographs and quotes representative of all aspects surrounding FGM and the fight to end it. She felt that while a lot of information on FGM is out there, provided by NGO’s, there was no single source such as a book which provided broad yet complete set of information on FGM and how to end it. This book, titled ‘The Cutting Tradition’ provides that information in an artistic and touching way.
Finally, Hoda Ali, a survivor of FGM told us her inspiring story. She explained how the first time she had shared her FGM experience was in 2006 when her friend, campaigner Leyla Hussein, asked her to tell her story to 15 young women. Hoda explained how when she told her story, she was shocked that all 15 girls started crying, as for Hoda, this was just the story of her FGM, a part of her life. Hoda told us how it was then that s
Overall, the event was a success, educating and inspiring fellow LSE students on an issue which will not go away unless we take action to fight it. One of the main messages the event gave to me was the importance of education. In Louise’s talk on advocacy work, she explained how she felt that the majority of people, once you explain to them what FGM is, will want to do something to help. The key is to keep talking about it. This raising of awareness is exactly what this event aimed to do, and with one group of students educated on what FGM is, how we can end it, and why that’s so important, we are one step closer to achieving that goal. he realised the power her story had in raising awareness, and in showing people how important it was to end FGM. Hoda explained that this is why she chooses to continue to tell her story. Hoda’s speech was incredibly moving and inspirational, providing a personal side to the event, and demonstrating the reality of how much FGM affects women’s lives. To me, it reinforced what Louise had said, that if all the campaign work by 28 Too Many saved only one girl from FGM, it would still be worth it.
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Blog written by 28 Too Many volunteer Asha Chadeesingh. Asha is an Economic History student at the London School of Economics. She first became aware of FGM volunteering for the LSE Student Union Amnesty International Society and has campaigned on this issue while continuing her studies.