To mark the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM, we shine a spotlight on those who work behind the scenes to end FGM - in government, community organisations, health services and research. Away from the public eye, they are women committed to bringing about change in their communities and countries, and their stories often go untold.
Join us in celebrating the Hidden Heroes of the movement to end FGM.
1) Salma Abou Hussein – Egypt
I remember first learning about FGM seven years ago while visiting a community school in rural Upper Egypt (where the practice is highly prevalent) and seeing wall posters warning parents from practicing it. The topic instantly shocked me. Having lived in Egypt all my life, I was surprised to have not heard of such a practice all these years. It raised my research interest and made me eventually jump on the first opportunity that came my way to contribute to the abandonment movement so that other girls and women could reclaim their rights over their bodies and end this human rights violation.
I jumped on the first opportunity that came my way to contribute to the abandonment movement so that other girls and women could reclaim their rights over their bodies and end this human rights violation.
I now work as a Project Officer at the Population Council and serve as the focal point of the “Evidence to End FGM research programme” in Egypt, funded by the UK Department for International Development. My role is to oversee and contribute to the generation of evidence pertaining to FGM in Egypt that would inform policy, programmes and investments in that matter.
From a research standpoint, speaking and interviewing men on FGM was the most challenging as the majority endorse strong traditional gender norms and are usually not targeted by interventions related to FGM, believing that it is women’s business. Therefore, they lack the awareness or are misinformed even though FGM is primarily a patriarchal practice to ensure women’s chastity and preserve the family honour.
My proudest achievement, thus far, was leading a mixed-methods study on social marketing campaigns pertaining to FGM abandonment in Egypt. In this study, we look at the design of social marketing campaigns and people’s perspectives towards them (which include young men and women, parents, medical doctors and religious leaders). The study also incorporated a social media component whereby we extracted online data on FGM and analysed it to reflect the degree of online interaction on the topic.
These two studies are under final review and are expected to be disseminated next quarter. Find out more about Salma and her work:
2) Ajilatou Saho – The Gambia
Because I know and feel first-hand what it is like to be mutilated, it is a duty etched in me to see the fight to the end.
I use my voice to empower and encourage survivors like myself to share their stories and tell people about the inflictions and trauma that go hand-in-hand with FGM. I also help in the training of advocates from different regions in The Gambia and I mentor young girls on FGM, gender-based violence and sexual and reproductive health and rights.
I am from a community that practices FGM and the knowledge I have gained from my work pushes me towards fighting for the cause. Working with organisations like Think Young Women also taught me that ending the practice needs a collective effort. This teamwork and the unity of women encouraged me the most.
Of course there are challenges. Most people in my community strongly believe that FGM is tied to religion and tradition. So, for me to be an end FGM advocate, it might seem that I disregard their norms and values. This results in me being viewed in a negative light and discriminated against. Perhaps the most difficult challenge is that our laws are not entirely strict on the issue of FGM and offer no provisions will summon the cutters to justice.
One of my greatest achievements is using my voice to end the practice and convincing my family that FGM is harmful.
I am especially proud of my current project – a short film on FGM to raise awareness and spark discussions in our communities. Because I know and feel first-hand what it is like to be mutilated, it is a duty etched in me to see the fight to the end.
3) Farduus Osman Ali- Somaliland
I want to see a future where women are free from any form of gender-based violence, including FGM.
I got involved in this movement to save mothers and future generations from this human rights violation. I want to see a future where women are free from any form of gender-based violence, including FGM.
As a nurse, public health practitioner and head of the gender division for the Ministry of Health in Somaliland, I train nurses and midwives on handling FGM complications. In addition to that, with support from local NGO SOFHA, I help run school health programmes which explains the medical complications of FGM to parents. If we meet girls who have been cut, we provide FGM medical care and we try to provide reconstructive surgery with support from NAFIS Network Organisation.
The most difficult challenge I face is lack of funding – both to the Ministry of Health and to women’s rights activists generally. This makes running campaigns like the 16 Days of Activism difficult. The other challenge is finalising the anti-medicalisation code of conduct to prevent health care professionals from taking part in FGM.
I am also very proud of the FGM programmes in primary schools throughout the region.
I am proudest of establishing a gender sector in Ministry of Health family health department to mainstream gender-based violence in health policy, as well as the development of strategies supported by SOFHA and NAFIS Network. I am also very proud of the FGM programmes in primary schools throughout the region.
4) Nuria Gollo – Kenya
l got involved in ending FGM because I am a survivor myself and l cannot forget the suffering l have gone through. Pain, trauma, severe bleeding, difficulty during delivery and not to mention a lifetime injury of feeling incomplete. I also witnessed the cut being performed on younger sisters of mine and their age mates, which had a huge effect on me. l was young at that time but I have campaigned against FGM since then, despite facing strong resistance.
l got involved in ending FGM because I am a survivor myself and l cannot forget the suffering l have gone through.
I run a community-based organisation called MWADO (Marsabit Women Advocacy and Development Organisation) whose core aim is to empower women socially, economically and politically. l conduct trainings, radio programmes, and counselling services for young people. I am also a role model who has daughters, including one in university, who have not undergone the cut. I am leading by example.
The challenges we face are many. FGM is conducted in secret, especially during holidays away from Marsabit, or across the border which makes catching the culprits difficult. We have limited resources to reach out to the pastoralists who are scattered in this vast county. Their leaders are the custodians of traditional laws who we need to influence. We also have a severe lack of a rescue homes keep girls fleeing FGM safe.
Despite these challenges, there are victories we can celebrate. I am extremely proud of the Anti-FGM Act and I can confidently say there is a reduction in the practice in Kenya. I was honoured to receive the Head of State Commendation for my work which gives me the morale to continue.
Find out more about Nuria’s work:
5) Obelawo Fatimat Aduke – Nigeria
I am happy to say that in my state, Osun, and my country, Nigeria, I am a force to reckon with on FGM abandonment... This has led to many declarations of abandonment by communities.
As a gender expert with a great passion for human rights, I want to see an end to FGM because it harms every aspect of a woman’s life. I voluntarily left civil service work and took up community development work and I know that no meaningful development can take place without bringing the issue of women’s and children’s rights on board.
I am a social worker and community mobiliser with many years of experience working for the Ministry of Women Affairs and the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices. I bring my years of training and experience to communities in my home state, Osun. Being an ordained pastor, I use my credentials to mobilise fellow religious leaders to join the fight against FGM. My passion for ending FGM gave me the opportunity to serve as a focal point for UNFPA to work with other stakeholders in the implementation of UNFPA/UNICEF joint programme.
I travel to the nooks and crannies of my state to carry out various activities such as community dialogues with traditional and religious leaders, women, youth and a cross-section of each community. I also train law enforcement officers, end FGM champions, and community development workers.
I am happy to say that in my state, Osun, and my country, Nigeria, I am a force to reckon with on FGM abandonment. Today, my efforts with that of others, has given visibility to the issue of FGM. I work with the media, NGOs and a host of others towards ending this harmful practice. This has led to many declarations of abandonment by communities.
There are always challenges, namely funding and mobility. Many of our communities are hard to reach, so assessing them can be very difficult. Sometimes we trek long distances.
More so than ever before, people are aware of FGM’s harmful effects and are showing interest in the campaign against it. Communities and traditional circumcisers are declaring abandonment. Traditional rulers are showing interest. Law enforcement agents are more involved. Today I can be proud that FGM abandonment is now popular in my state and country
More so than ever before, people are aware of FGM’s harmful effects and are showing interest in the campaign against it.