On the 24th April 2018, on a chilly Nairobi morning, I took to social media and wrote my first tweet of the day: “These two days have been in the dreams of many including me! 25th and 26th April - 1st ever pan African youth summit on FGM in Nairobi! I salute all the young people here with us!” To say I was anxious and overwhelmed would be an understatement: we were preparing to host the first ever Pan-African End FGM Youth Summit bringing over 170 young people from across 17 countries in Africa and beyond! As we sat with the team on the floor of the unfurnished hotel conference room, which was soon to become the home of our Summit for the next two days, my heart was racing, as I wondered what the days ahead might hold.
Ending Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in one generation is a vision for The Girl Generation, an initiative to galvanise, catalyse, and amplify the Africa-led movement to end FGM, building on what has already been achieved. Over the last few years we have been working with young people across Africa, as we believe they are the heart and soul of the movement to end FGM. In an effort to consolidate our gains to date, and in partnership with the Anti–FGM Board Kenya, and the Youth Anti-FGM Network Kenya, we hosted the first ever Pan-African #YouthEndFGM Summit.
Affecting more than 200 million women and girls worldwide, we believe that FGM is a violation of the rights of women and girls and it must end in this generation.
We also believe that ending FGM is a responsibility for everyone, including young people. We recognize youth as positive shapers of culture, influencers of policy, and future parents, who have the power to end FGM in this generation. This power of youth was well articulated by Kailash Satyarthi, a children's rights activist, when he said, “The power of youth is the common wealth for the entire world. The faces of young people are the faces of our past, our present and our future. No segment in the society can match with the power, idealism, enthusiasm and courage of the young people.” When we decided to hold the youth summit, our intention was tap into this power by catalysing collective youth action, reach, and influence; providing an opportunity to celebrate the changes that are already taking place; sharing together what has worked and amplifying success to inspire others; exploring and discussing what more needs to be done; and showing the world that young people are seriously committed to ending FGM in this generation.
As it dawned on the 25th, I drove through the heavy Nairobi traffic to the Crowne Plaza Hotel with an empty notebook and pen in my hand, eager to meet the young people upon whom our hope of ending FGM in one generation rested. I could not help but wonder if we were asking too much. I drove, lost in my own thoughts, and not sure how the day might unfold. As the security guard at the hotel gate searched my vehicle - a norm in Kenya today - he could not help but notice that I was distracted. I told him I was attending the Youth Summit and he said, “you are the one who has brought the vibrant young people to our hotel? We thank you.” I knew instantly that we were in for a treat. I could hear a sound like distant thunder, which grew louder as I got closer to the Summit venue. I soon realized it was the sound of clapping, dancing and singing! The room itself was unrecognizable, the décor, furnishings, lighting, the beautiful young and vibrant faces full of hope and anticipation, the energy was electric! At that moment, I was certain that we had not asked for too much: these are the faces of a future without FGM. Gone was my fear, and in its place was immense hope. As I sat down and heard stories of how FGM is ending with leadership from young people, the burden of ending FGM that weighed heavily on my heart started to lift. Susan Gibbs, from the Wallace Global Fund, summarized this feeling accurately when she tweeted; “The weight of the world's burdens can be hard to hold, but through this 1st pan-African #EndFGM Youth Summit, it's comforting & inspiring that the future is held by so many powerful & beautiful hands!” As we all joined hands to reaffirm our commitment to ending FGM, the young people erupted in one voice, saying it is our turn to join the campaign to end FGM, the future will not be the same, the end starts here!
To say the Summit was a success would be an understatement. The two days we spent with young people will change the destiny of many women and girls across the world. Esmael Omar, The Girl Generation Programme Officer for Kenya, was quoted saying “We are of the firm belief that FGM can and must end in this generation. Young people are here to shape their destiny. We have laid a foundation – of which our daughters will not be cut."
Young people from Sierra Leone rose up and declared, “We must take charge of our future and we Sierra Leonean young people pledge to set up our own youth platform so that we can end FGM in Sierra Leone. This is a new dawn”. Others, including our very own Global Ambassador Leyla Hussein, a tireless end FGM campaigner for many years, holding back tears said, "I can retire when I see you... I know that our efforts have been worthwhile, you are the generation that will end FGM”.
As the Summit closed following discussions, music and celebration of what the future might hold, I was clear, without any fear of contradiction, that indeed, young people hold the key and power to end FGM in this generation. As I looked at the social media coverage, and seeing that we had were trending on Twitter in Kenya for the whole two days, my fear and anxiety had been replaced by hope and anticipation of a future without FGM.
My last twitter entry on the 26th was a retweet of Kailash Satyarthi, “The power of youth is the common wealth for the entire world. The faces of young people are the faces of our past, our present and our future. No segment in the society can match with the power, idealism, enthusiasm and courage of the young people”
This statement captured what we had achieved and I knew that a future without FGM is imminent. Become part of that future, join us!