A quarterly update from Executive Director Ann-Marie Wilson.
Marking 16 days of activism to end violence against women
The end of 2015 involved a flurry of activity. Apart from our awareness training in the UK,covering several hundred attendees in Glasgow with Bishop Gregor Duncan and the Mother’s Union in London, we met with the Department for International Development (DfID) to talk about anti FGM engagement. We also held two highly successful events in The Gambia and Mali, and launched our latest report on FGM in Burkina Faso.
“Dropping the Knife” and training youth against FGM in The Gambia
In November, our board member Jacqueline headed to The Gambia for a week of intense anti-FGM work for 28 Too Many. She joined The Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (GAMCOTRAP) in Jarreng village, four hours from the capital up the Trans-Gambia Highway, to witness a “Dropping the Knife” ceremony.This is where 30 FGM circumcisers/cutters publically declared, with the support from their 109 community members and chiefs, that they have abandoned FGM and are prepared to “drop” their instruments. We were very privileged to attend and see GAMCOTRAP’s work firsthand after Tina and I visited them in June, to see their intense community sensitisation, consensus building and values clarification.
We also co-led a two day workshop hosted by Kids Come First Foundation and 28 Too Many, for 38 young girls and boys to learn about FGM, following our partnership started in June. FGM affects 76 per cent of women aged 15-49 years, and with 60 per cent of the population being youth they are a good audience and target before they become parents themselves. The risk of babies dying is 15-55 per cent with Type I-III FGM respectively and the workshop educated on this, alongside the problems of child marriage and the poor education of girls.
The workshop used footage from “Abandon the Knife”, a movie on alternative initiation in Kenya and Moolaade, a Senegalese movie on FGM and women’s empowerment. During the workshop, girls said that their problems included FGM, early marriage, excessive domestic work, lack of parental care,lack of education, disempowerment over decisions and sexual pressure. Boys stated their problems were gambling,illegal immigration, peer pressure and drug pressures and these reasons led to the need for education on the rights of the child education.
The best news at the end of the trip was that the government made FGM in the Gambia illegal. This is what we had been strongly asking for when we met a government minister in June to share our report.
Making moves on FGM in Mali
28 Too Many researcher Gemma Locke and her family live in Mali and I joined them for a week in June. She has seen firsthand how the combined powers of tradition and silence add to the challenge of eradicating FGM. “FGM in Mali is rife” she says, “but it is a very sensitive subject and not really talked about”.
Mali has one of the highest national rates of FGM and there has been little change in recent years. With nine out of ten girls at risk (2007), many Malians believe that the practice should continue.Changing attitudes can be difficult, as people fear exclusion from their communities for breaking with tradition and speaking against FGM. However, local NGOs are working to change attitudes through education and by encouraging discussion within families and communities, and Gemma has seen signs of hope. One of Gemma’s friends recently decided not to carry out FGM on her young daughter. “She can only talk about her choice with trusted friends in the safe space of the local church, but in time I hope she can influence other women.”
Recently, Gemma was pleased to help hold a meeting for NGO representatives, hosted by UNICEF, gathering many of the contacts we met in June. She says: “It is the first time a non-political open forum for all working against FGM in Mali has been held to discuss strategies, successes, failures and obstacles. The group engaged, and openness and honesty was shown. The best outcome was that the main national organisation fighting FGM would now push for a law to end FGM in Mali, with greater NGO collaboration.” She adds: “It is hard for individuals to stand against this practice” says Gemma, “but together, groups of people are a powerful source for change.”
Launch of our 10th report – FGM in Burkina Faso
On Human Rights Day, we launched our tenth report on a country I last visited in 2014.Faith Mwangi-Powell, Global Director of The Girl Generation, said of our report: “this report could not be timelier, as there is limited information on the status of FGM in many countries and this is hindering progress towards its elimination. This report is a vital addition to the nine others.”
FGM in Burkina Faso remains high at 76 per cent although 87 per cent of women who have had FGM and men express views that it should be stopped. I was heartened to see the level of youth involvement and enthusiasm for songs and music to portray FGM messages to the community. Yet there is much still to do, as girls are being cut as babies or infants and often taken across borders for FGM where there are no laws. Voix des Femmes recognises that the law “must be accompanied by a range of activities designed with local circumstances in mind, such as awareness raising, community dialogue, engaging circumcisers and supporting survivors”.
Educating UK audiences
We have continued to educate varied professional and faith audiences across London, Nottingham, Essex, Berkshire, Wales, Swanwick and the Lake District. One initiative we have been heavily involved in has been the “Warriors” movie which we have attended and spoken at eight screenings in Nairobi, Leeds and London. Do visit the website at: http://www.warriorsfilm.co.uk for how you can purchase your DVD and see our work firsthand! The film has already won an award in Monaco and a UN 2016 cinema programme selection. It discusses the male-dominated Maasai where women and girls have few rights and FGM harms the younger generation. It shows our work in Laikipia in February last year and why we do what we do, and how it makes a difference. We are raising money to return there this year.
Finally, in November, we enjoyed a great night with 30 of our team, Ogilvy UK and a few supporters to share the success of the Clio and other awards. We hope to work with them and another agency to keep FGM in the headlines until we see our vision achieved – where every girl and woman is safe, healthy and lives free from FGM.
Thank you to everyone who helps make our work possible and if you can please make a donation to help us continue in our efforts to end FGM. A small monthly donation would make a huge difference to us so please consider setting up a standing order. There are many other ways to give and please email [email protected] for details. You can also support us by liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter.