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Survivors in the spotlight: How can girl-centred programming help end female genital mutilation

We spoke to four active members and survivors of the end-FGM/C movement to find out what inspired them to join the fight to end the practice.

14 July 2023

We lead the UK aid-funded The Girl Generation programme, which aims to accelerate positive changes in social attitudes toward ending female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C) and a reduction in the practice in focus countries by 2025. The programme focuses on a girl-centred approach, which places girls at the heart of the programme’s design, implementation, and evaluation, and centralises their voices.

We spoke to four active members, activists and survivors of the end-FGM/C movement to find out what inspired them to join the fight to end the practice and about how girl-centred programming can help achieve this. They will also be part of a panel at Women Deliver 2023 on ‘Girls at the center: The power of partnering with communities to end female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C)’ on July 19, 2023, (11.30-13.00 (GMT+2).

Dr. Leyla Hussein – Global Advocacy Director, The Girl Generation

What inspired you to join the end FGM/C movement?

“As a survivor, joining the anti-FGM movement was driven by my unwavering determination to protect my daughter from the pain and suffering I endured. I refuse to let future generations go through what I experienced, and I am committed to ending this harmful practice for the sake of our daughters and the generations to come.”

How can girl-centred programming help to end FGM/C?

“Girl-centred programming holds the key to ending FGM/C by empowering girls, amplifying their voices, and nurturing their agency. By providing them with education, healthcare, and safe spaces, we equip girls with the knowledge, confidence, and resources to challenge harmful norms and advocate for their own rights. When girls are at the centre of our efforts, we foster a generation of empowered change-makers who will drive the movement to eradicate FGM/C and create a future where every girl can thrive free from harm.”

Aminata Kamara – Senior Programme Manager, Purposeful, Sierra Leone

What inspired you to join the movement?

“At 18, just after my final high school exams and preparing for university, I heard rumours that I was getting initiated into the ‘Bondo society’, which is a traditional secret society in Sierra Leone that serves as a rite of passage for girls and women. There, FGM is a compulsory step in the initiation process. Facing this dreadful news, I felt powerless as I did not want to be initiated but had nowhere to run to as my entire family was in on the plans. I had to succumb to their desires. If this was the price to pay to complete school, live with my family and have a roof over my head, I paid it with pain in my heart. I remember telling one of my aunts, who was praising what would happen to me and said that they should carry on and get it over with.

“I decided to join the movement against FGM during my initiation rites into the secret society. During my time there, I saw three girls (non-initiates) walk in the bush; common practice was to catch and forcefully initiate them. Upon seeing the girls, I shouted at them to leave immediately. That was when I vowed to prevent and be a barrier to girls experiencing this gruesome practice. I spoke against my family when they considered initiating other girls in my family, making me the last survivor of FGM in my family to this day.”

How can girl-centred programming help to end FGM/C?

“Girls can play a huge role in ending FGM: the practice needs girls as victims. Without girls and women, there will be no FGM. Amplifying their voices is crucial to ending the practice against them. But girls’ voices are alienated in most discourse, and FGM is no exception. At Purposeful, we create spaces for them to learn about the impacts of FGM and unpack the trauma relating to it which can serve as a spring board to ending it.

“Practitioners are also groomed from as early as eight years old. Starting with girls as young as eight too will help them understand the impact of the practice on the health and well-being of other girls and women. It will also be a great way to bust myths around why they should practice FGM, which they are exposed to at this age.”

Sadia Hussein – Founder and Director, Brighter Society Initiative, Kenya

What inspired you to join the end FGM/C movement?

“FGM robs women and girls of their dignity.

I went through FGM when I was ten years old, very innocent, and no one prepared me for the pain. It’s torture and affects girls’ well-being forever. It’s still vivid in my mind and whenever I reflect on it, I just break down in tears. I don’t wish that any other girl has to join the 200 million survivors.

“FGM ends with us, and I will use my story to build the confidence of other survivors to save their daughters like I saved my three girls!”

How can girl-centred programming help to end FGM?

“A girl-centred approach is critical in three ways.

“First, it builds the confidence, mental health and wellbeing of survivors, and empowers them to live a lasting future beyond violence.

“Second, girl-centred programming ensures that the power of decision-making over their bodies solely belongs to them. There is always a risk that those who make decisions on girls’ behalf, e.g. the government, can reverse decisions and stop progress being made. To avoid that, it’s important listen to those who suffered the pain to realise an end to FGM!

“Thirdly, real transformation will only take place once we give women and girls the opportunity to raise their voices – a girl-centred approach is therefore the solution to end FGM.”

Saza Faradilla – Co-Founder and Director, End FGC, Singapore

What inspired you to join the movement?

“When I was 20 years old, I accidentally found out I was cut when I was one year old. I felt angry, violated and confused. I catalysed these emotions into action when I met other Muslim-raised women who felt similarly. Together, we started End Female Genital Cutting Singapore (EFS). In 2020, we launched a first of its kind study on female genital cutting (FGC) in Singapore, analysing the most common type of cut, equipment used and so on. This study led to the ESF hosting events and panel discussions on ending the practice, providing support sessions for victims, producing publications on the topic, and more activists lobbying against FGC – all aimed at public re-education and regulation of FGC, and its eventual end here.

“EFS is often criticised for not pushing for a ban or criminalisation of FGC. But we believe that it’s ineffective (as proven by rampant black market procedures in countries that have banned FGC) and that it unfairly penalises an already marginalised community as Malays are the most economically disenfranchised population in Singapore. Instead, we believe in re-educating the Muslim community that FGC is religiously and medically unnecessary and harmful. We also encourage regulation where only symbolic cutting (where no actual skin is removed or blood drawn) happens at the doctors.”

How can girl-centred programming help to end FGM/C?

“It is crucial to listen, understand and trust activists who are working on FGC on-the-ground. Since we are from the community, we know what the community and its leaders will be receptive to. Girl-centred programming means to put the needs, hopes and desires of FGC survivors at the forefront of our advocacy. To do this, it’s critical that the global movement to eliminate FGC believes grassroots activists and survivors who are fighting for the same cause.”

Focus areas
Gender Equality Disability and Social Inclusion

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