Who is Ugwu Somto? End female genital mutilation (FGM) activists who use social media will be familiar with the Twitter account of Ugwu Somto. He is the first to comment on every single #EndFGM tweet from around the world, from any organization or activist. He praises people's efforts, re-affirms his belief that we will end FGM in this generation, and generally helps to amplify the end FGM movement. Have you ever wondered who this keyboard warrior is? We did, so we spoke to Ugwu to find out more on what drives him to end FGM.
- Please introduce yourself and tell us a bit about where you live and what you do.
My name is Barrister Ugwu Somtochukwu Nnamdi, a girl child advocate from Nigeria. I currently live and reside in Enugu State. I am also currently working with a non-governmental organization (NGO) called Society for the Improvement of Rural People (SIRP), where I serve as both the Communications Officer and as head of the Gender Equality department.
- Can you share your story of how you came to be involved in the end FGM movement and why ending FGM is so important to you?
I became involved in the end FGM movement when last year SIRP partnered with The Girl Generation on a project in Enugu State titled “Using Social Change Communication Techniques to end FGM in five FGM endemic communities in Enugu State, Nigeria”. Through our advocacy work in these communities, it opened my eyes to the various harmful effects that FGM has on women and girls. Also, the painful stories which I heard from various FGM survivors in these communities motivated me to be involved in this campaign to end FGM.
- What attracted you to working on gender equality?
The major reason why I became a girl child advocate in Nigeria is because of the patriarchal system, which is present in Nigerian society. In Nigeria women and girls are seen as being inferior to men. They have little or no opportunity for advancement. This inferiority is exemplified in so many ways. Right from birth they are considered less important with no right to anything, inclusive of education and inheritance of real properties. You can imagine that in Nigeria most families still prefer to give birth to a male child than to a female child. Also, there is this belief amongst various men that the place of the girl child is in the kitchen.
Apart from the foregoing, women and girls in Nigeria are also subjected to various acts of violence by men. This can be seen through the various forms of harmful traditional practices like child marriage, unfair widowhood practices and of course FGM in Nigeria.
So, it’s all these reasons that attracted me to promoting issues concerning gender equality and women empowerment in Nigeria.
- We know you best for being a keyboard warrior, commenting on and sharing end FGM posts on Twitter. Are you involved in the end FGM movement in real life?
Of course, yes. I work to end FGM in real life. My work to end FGM in real life - just like I stated earlier - started last year when we partnered with The Girl Generation on an end FGM campaign in five FGM endemic communities in Enugu State, Nigeria.
In this project, I acted as one of the facilitators. I was deeply involved in facilitating discussions centered on the harmful effects of FGM.
As a facilitator, I was assigned to handle the various dialogue sessions we had in the course of our advocacy work in these communities. I am also a member of the youth end FGM network here in Nigeria. Just the day before yesterday I attended a youth end FGM network meeting in Lagos. So, I am fully involved in the end FGM movement in real life.
- What role do you think social media has in ending FGM?
Wow, it does play a huge role in this fight against FGM. Through social media we can amplify our voices to reach a large audience. For example, through my social media advocacy, I have been able to take the end FGM message to so many people.
Also, since statistics has shown that a greater number of people who are using various social media platforms are young people and the target is to end FGM by 2030, I believe that through the instrumentality of social media, we can get the end FGM message across to more young people. Young people are the ones who will end this practice by 2030.
- Why is it important to connect with other campaigners all around the world?
It’s very important. I believe that for us to be able to end FGM by 2030, we have to connect with each other and stay united. I also believe that no single individual or organization can effectively end FGM by 2030. So, there is need for all of us to come together, if we are really serious to end FGM by 2030.
- How do you think the end FGM movement has changed in recent years in Nigeria?
The end FGM movement has indeed changed a lot in recent years in Nigeria. But I will love to dwell on the three major ways it has changed:
- The Government: Previously the Nigerian Government wasn’t taking the fight against FGM too seriously in Nigeria, but this has of recent changed. We can attribute this to the commitment of various civil society organisations and NGOs in Nigeria, who have forced the Government’s hand to start taking the fight against FGM seriously in Nigeria. This was in fact made manifest in 2015 when the Nigerian Government passed the Violence against Person Prohibition Act (VAPP) which prohibits FGM in Nigeria.
- Funding: Before now, most NGOs, especially those at the grassroots like SIRP, were complaining of lack of funds to carry out various sensitization programmes to end FGM in Nigeria, but of recent things have changed. Currently various donor agencies like UNFPA, UNICEF, The Girl Generation End FGM Grassroots Fund etc. are now beginning to give various grassroots NGOs in Nigeria the needed funds to carry out our programmes in various rural communities in Nigeria.
- Youths: Previously many young people in Nigeria knew little or nothing about FGM talk more of fighting it, but things are beginning to change in Nigeria. Right now, many young people like me are taking the lead in various parts of the country in a bid to ending FGM in Nigeria. For instance, young people like Lucky Nwachukwu, Nnamdi Eseme, Blessing Timigha etc. are now rising to the occasion and spear heading this fight against FGM in Nigeria. Currently, we also have no less than 10 youth FGM networks in Nigeria. So, the young people of Nigeria are now taking this fight against FGM seriously in Nigeria.
- Tell us about your Organization, SIRP Nigeria. What is your role, and what approach do they take to ending FGM?
Society for the Improvement of Rural People (SIRP) is an NGO based in Enugu State of Nigeria. The organization was founded in the year 1988 and was officially registered in 1999. Dr Chris N. Ugwu is the founder. The organization aims to support vulnerable people in rural areas of Nigeria, through poverty alleviation and rights advocacy.
This organization was set up in response to the urgent need for philanthropic support to address the various issues confronting vulnerable persons (i.e. women, children, disabled persons and youth) especially in rural areas of the country.
Our vision statement “is to be a civil society organization role model, in providing voice and services to the less privileged and vulnerable segment of the society, with a key focus on issues concerning health, education, agriculture, poverty alleviation, gender equality, human rights and of course democracy”.
While our mission statement “is to promote quality service delivery that would improve the living conditions of the people, while ensuring true partnership, accountability and good governance”.
The approach we are using to end FGM in Nigeria is called Behavioural Change Communication. This approach enables members of a community to discuss long-taboo topics like FGM within accepted parameters in a protected environment. Specifically, we employ these dialogue approaches;
- Intergenerational Dialogue
- Family Approach
This approach is based on the principle of listening and questioning rather than on instructing. It enables people to reflect on their values, customs and traditions and to consider under what conditions change ought to be made.
- How do you manage to be so prolific on social media 24/7? Do you post everything personally or do you use a clever automated response? Do you have an ‘End FGM’ twitter bot?
It all boils down to my passion and commitment to ending FGM in this generation. So, I neither use a clever automated response nor an ‘End FGM’ twitter bot. I post everything personally.