International Women's Day: Standing up against FGMTuesday, 7 Mar 2017
Who are you?
My name is Dr Faith Mwangi-Powell and I’m the Global Director for The Girl Generation, a social change initiative working to end FGM in ten African countries.
What does ‘be bold for change’ mean to you?
I think the theme is appropriate for International Women’s Day. It gives us an opportunity to stand up for change. For me, that means to continually stand up for change to end FGM.
FGM is a tricky subject to deal with, it’s underpinned by social norms and is a cultural practise. It’s a difficult one to shift so by standing up to say “let’s end FGM”, we are being very bold.
Tell us about a time when you’ve had to be bold.
In my job I have to be bold every day and every minute. I have to be bold in email conversations with our members and partners because of the work we are doing. Ending FGM is an everyday job. You wake up every day thinking “how can I do this differently”, “how can I do this better?” So I think myself, my team and Options has been bold to tackle this issue.
One of the ways we’ve been bold is to go to the countries where we work to identify those who are at the forefront of the campaign, we have for example identified young people who have become our ambassadors and agents of change- giving the young people a real platform to act- I think this is a bold move!
Others ways we have been bold is to face the challenges we face in all the countries where we work; in Burkina Faso, a country that speaks French, we are trying to convince people to end FGM in another language; in Sudan, a highly Muslim country where FGM is underpinned by religious practises, and in Kenya there are so many different reasons why FGM is practised; religion, rites of passage, cleanliness. We have to identify a solution or a way to initiate dialogue so that we can come to together to say “yes, we can do this”. We have to be bold and inclusive, even with people who don’t agree with us, to convince them.
At The Girl Generation we believe this is not an issue for us alone. We are reaching out to people, sometimes to people who we wouldn’t normally reach out to. It’s about being bold to say, who is doing it better than me. Sometimes you have to recognise that you might not be the best spokesperson at that time, and that takes courage.
You have to be sensitive, to be caring and be careful and do that with dignity because we are talking about culture.
What bold actions would you like other people to take to see a more inclusive and gender equal world?
I would like people to recognise that ending FGM is the responsibility of everyone. I would like everyone to stand up and be a spokesman for this issue and to be courageous. And if they don’t know about the issue, reach out, there are enough resources to educate anyone. People should not be afraid to stand up.
Beyond FGM, I believe that if women are not treated fairly or given opportunities, communities won’t develop. If half of our communities are not given the opportunity to fulfil their dreams, the community is jeopardised.
How can we stand up for gender equality broadly? I’m very excited when I look at the Sustainable Development Goals to see they have really included gender equality in Goal 5. That gives us an opportunity and credibility to stand up. There is no reason for someone to say it’s a ‘woman’s issue’. It’s an ‘everyone issue’. We are calling on young people and older people, we are calling on men and women to stand up and say we need better access to education, we need better access to safe drinking water, to health, to reproductive health rights and job opportunities. It goes beyond FGM. There are so many other issues we need to deal with.
If everyone could stand up, 2030 would be a dream changer. We could change the lives of so many women because for many women it’s just about getting the opportunity. I believe the women of today hold the key to the future, for communities all over the world.
I want to salute other women within my own organisation, Options, and within the broader global community who are at the forefront of issues which are challenging social norms and the status quo of issues which have oppressed other women. I salute you all. Have a great international women’s day.