To mark 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, The Girl Generation is highlighting the importance of mental wellbeing amongst End FGM campaigners. Through an online resource pack, training events, and a trial grants programme, the Emotional Wellbeing project hopes to provide psychological support to those engaged in the campaign to end FGM. The project will teach activists self-care techniques and hopes to break down stigmas around the mental health consequences of FGM. The project has completed a successful pilot, running a three-day workshop in Machakos County, Kenya, where activists were given the opportunity to discuss their experiences and practice self-care methods, such as yoga and breathing exercises. The Girl Generation is now trialling a grant scheme, to enable workshop attendees to disseminate the information and training they received.
Many of those working to end violence against women and girls are victims of trauma themselves, yet they frequently receive minimal support in this regard. “[Organisations] often send frontline campaigners into the fire without really preparing them for it, or having aftercare for them,” explains Dr Leyla Hussein, who initiated and designed the Emotional Wellbeing project. End FGM activists are often survivors themselves and many face abuse and violence when working to end the practice. “Abuse? That’s normal. One day, I was shot at,” explains Lotan Salaipei, an activist who attended the session in Kenya. “I healed physically but I never addressed what was happening in my head.” The Emotional Wellbeing project aims to fill this gap, acting as “an emotional first aid kit”, according to Dr Hussein, and helping campaigners deal with trauma and psychological harm.
Isolation is a major issue for activists. Support structures were included in the project to counteract this. Those attending the session formed a support network amongst themselves and have sustained this contact since returning to their communities. Isolated campaigners also felt more connected to larger global movements, as emphasis was placed on the End FGM activists’ role within the wider movement to eliminate violence against women and girls. Dr Hussein was keen to stress the need to end discrimination of all kinds in the campaign to end FGM: “If you’re surrounded by [discrimination] at all times, FGM is not going to end,” she explained. “You’re still living in a society which makes it ok for girls to be cut, and that’s not ok.”
The support offered at the Machakos workshop was well received. “When I arrived, I was so heavy,” one participant said. “Now I feel light and I am going back home feeling much stronger.” On their return, attendees were eager to share what they had learned with their local organisations and communities. One activist reported that she had been inspired by the emotional wellbeing techniques from the session and had now established a sex and healthy relationships support group through her local church. The Emotional Wellbeing grants scheme is designed to support this kind of work and facilitate further local projects to expand the programme’s reach.
The Girl Generation is now seeking additional funding to support this expansion and help more activists. The programme acknowledges that if it is to reach its goal of ending FGM within a generation, activists’ wellbeing needs to be taken into consideration. “We must equip campaigners and survivors with the tools to heal,” Dr Hussein explains. “Without support for leaders, we will not protect the next generation of girls from being cut.”