23 September 2011

How can 'change' be made when the challenges seem insurmountable?

This is what I am often asked as I take a stance against FGM, a practice that’s been around for 2000 years. Yet when you read the poem at the end of this – produced with ‘Fouzia’s’ permission, a young woman admitted to hospital for FGM complications – how can one not act?

Another person committed to change is Marie Jalloh. She stood for political office in 2007 amidst harassment and intimidation, when women won 17 out of 112 parliamentary seats. Women politicians are especially important as they tend to promote gender equality. In Sierra Leone, FGM is 90% (Momoh, 2005) and is surrounded by taboo, a secret society joined by girls at puberty and other African practices.

Another group facing change is the five consortia partners behind the Silent No More campaign. A coalition of international aid agencies, church groups and indvidiuals standing together to end sexual violence in communities across the world. Sign up to their commitment pledge, like I’ve done! One of the partners, Restored has been working this month in Democratic Republic of Congo (where FGM is practised) and Burundi. In both countries, there is a need to ‘turn the tide of violence, stigma and discrimination’ in order to bring change, and I will be working with them in ending violence against women, especially FGM.

One of the ways I aim to impact ending FGM is via education. I worked in the largest IDP (internally displaced people) Camp in the world, currently with 470,000 residents swelling again in numbers due to the current East African famine). It offers Somali women like Ali, a 27 year old mother of 5, a chance to be treated for complications attributed to having undergone FGM. CARE, who I worked for, report an increase from 75 cases of sexual/gender violence in 2010, to 355 in the same period of 2011. I know building trust is crucial to change. Journalism training is one way of helping nurses, midwives and teachers tell their stories and build bridges with the media. Through drama they can illustrate traditional attitudes to FGM, build trust with journalists and work towards building peace in their country – their unanimous desire for their region. As I head back to Kenya in a few weeks time, I wonder what change I will see from my first visit in 2001 when I began to get my heart for Africa, and 2005 when I first witnessed the effects of FGM? The one thing I have learnt on this journey so far, is change takes longer than you might think! What change are you passionate about? Just go for it!

Painful Truth Poem
At some point of my life
I asked myself why
All the eyes are on me
It makes me want to cry

They want me to be tough
Pass this habit to my kids
Teach them to be rough
Let them feel what I felt

But what if it is wrong
And it has to be wrong
It doesn’t make me feel strong

This is a story
That no one wants to hear
It’s only my destiny
To end this life with fear

I was 5 years old
When I started to realize
That girls are born to be cold
Just like a useless device

It’s not my right to complain
As a matter of fact
I should withstand all emotional and physical pain

I heard that one of my friends
Became a hero
Because she went under a procedure
That make her so

I knew my day will come anyway
It was never an option, it was compulsory

I had to bite my lips
Hold back the tears in my eyes
Because if I cried, they will inform other kids
That I was a coward and I will never go a step forward.

The pain and I grew up
Together we never stopped
Seeking for something to separate us
We never ever gave up

But people still wanted to hurt me
They taught me that my life doesn’t belong to me
Now I feel that there is nothing hurtful
I got used with everything even if it’s horrible

I remember I had urine retention
And I needed a medical attention
But first, they wanted permission
From those who never changed their vision

To cut me up
To leave me with no choice
But to give up

I guess they never cared about my emotion
Or they would empathize knowing the sensation
Inside me was a tremendous commotion
I was lost in an invisible and painful ocean

I’m a girl
Like any other Somali girl
FGM is the only nightmare

Looking forward to the golden age
When it will all vanish
Can’t wait for you golden age
To come and end this punishment.