Ending FGM and Promoting Emotional Wellbeing: Announcing a New Collaboration

14 May 2018

During Mental Health Awareness Week, we are delighted to announce the launch of a new project: Ending FGM and Promoting Emotional Wellbeing. This project is led by The Girl Generation’s Strategic Advisor, Leyla Hussein (who is also an award-winning campaigner and psychotherapist), with generous support from Wallace Global Fund. Working closely with grassroots organisations, the project will create, test and roll out a new package of support for emotional wellbeing among FGM survivors and campaigners. The project will strengthen the end FGM movement’s ability to:

  • Provide sustainable emotional support for women and girls affected by FGM, to enhance prevention efforts and support survivors,

  • Ensure self-care for campaigners, staff and volunteers working to end FGM, particularly in grassroots organisations, and

  • Break down the stigma associated with FGM and associated emotional or mental health issues

Affecting more than 200 million women globally, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is an extremely harmful practice. It includes all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. FGM is a global issue, recognized internationally as a violation of the rights of women and girls.

The social movement to end FGM is driven by courageous and tenacious activists across the most affected countries in Africa, and within the diaspora. Many of them work at the community level, within their own towns and villages: they start conversations about FGM, hold educational sessions, help girls who are at risk of FGM (and, indeed, other human rights violations), and support survivors.

The movement to end FGM has gained confidence and momentum in recent years, with backing from both governments and international and national agencies. However, at The Girl Generation, we witness the struggles that underlie this remarkable progress. Activists, campaigners and others working to end FGM face numerous challenges to their emotional wellbeing, particularly when working in resource-poor settings with high prevalence of FGM, and where women and girls face multiple risks and disadvantages (including economic insecurity, forced marriage and sexual violence). They often face stigma, social ostracism and threats to their safety. They report feeling isolated and alone, and can be burnt out by working – often over many years – on extremely troubling issues, and with limited support. Many activists are survivors of FGM themselves. There are increasing calls within the movement to recognise and respond to these challenges.

Campaigners working in affected communities are also increasingly calling for the psychosocial impact of FGM to be recognised and addressed, both for women’s wellbeing, and as a critical component of prevention. If women can create safe spaces in which to reflect on their experiences, and what this means for their own daughters, this creates an opportunity for the inter-generational cycle of FGM to be broken. In contexts where formal counselling services are unavailable, campaigners may lack options for referring women for further support, and may lack the skills, tools and resources to support women, sustainably and safely, themselves. There is still considerable stigma related to talking about mental health issues in many of these contexts.

“At the moment, young girls fleeing FGM and forced marriage in safe houses in Kenya are told, ‘be tough, don’t cry’ - because there is seen to be no other option” Leyla Hussein

To address these challenges, we are launching a new, ground-breaking international collaboration across the end FGM movement, which will promote emotional wellbeing, and  offer survivors tools and skills to break down stigma associated with FGM, by building and testing a package of support for activists and survivors in Kenya, with the potential for future application in many other settings. The project represents an evolution of the Dahlia project, a specialist service for survivors of FGM, established by Leyla Hussein.

The project will be developed by survivors and activists from African countries, and piloted in Kenya. Learning and outcomes (including open-access toolkits or guides to enable uptake) will be shared across the end FGM movement by the end of 2018.

For more information, please email info@thegirlgeneration.org with the subject title ‘Emotional Wellbeing’.

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