8 May 2018

The Pan African #YouthEndFGM Summit – Nairobi – Kenya 2018

Guest Blog from Bakary Seedy Dampha, Founder and National Coordinator, Kids Come First, The Gambia. The Girl Generation (TGG) is a social change communication initiative providing a global platform for galvanizing, catalyzing and amplifying the African- led movement to end FGM and building on what has already been achieved by grass root organizations.

Toward this goal, TGG organized the first ever Pan African youth summit held from the 25th-26thApril 2018 in Nairobi, Kenya. The summit brought together 170 young people from 17 countries including diaspora in the UK. With its FGM grants, the Girl Generation is helping to put young people in the forefront to #ENDFM. It supported 160 grassroots organization in African with 1.8 million US Dollars. This is unique and amazing as no other organization is ever bold enough to do such despite the presumption on the misuse of resources.

The main purpose of the summit was:

  • Catalyse youth collective action, reach, influence and provide an opportunity to celebrate the change that is already achieved.
  • Share together what has worked and amplify success to inspire others
  • Explore and discuss what more needs to be done and
  • Show the world that African young people are seriously committed to ending FGM in this generation.

The summit was quite extraordinary and interactive having to learn and share with the global audience about difference efforts and strategies applied depending on the context and socio-cultural norms of a country or county. Indeed, African youth are scaling up and are committed to ending FGM in this generation despite the difficult circumstances and backlashes they continue to face on a daily basis from families and clans. African leadership refusal to publicly go against the act and failure to legislate and implement laws has put activist and advocates at a disadvantage. Nevertheless, it is good to use the law to our advantage but is also impeccable to continue to engage and involve young people from all sphere of discussion.

Applicable to the Gambian context, after a newfound democratic dispensation, religious and some conservative figures have been using the media to support the practices of FGM without pragmatic action of the government officials to actually remind those about the existence of the anti-FGM laws. This must stop as alluded to by Gambian delegate during the conference who called upon the African Union and Economic Community of West African State – ECOWAS - to act immediately.

“Young women activists are placed at a double disadvantage by their community based on gender and age. They are often reminded that as young women they don’t have the decision of how their bodies will be”.  This has shown the typical rooted culture we have come from and willingness of the older generation to defend the culture at all cost. Almost all the African countries have presented on methodology and strategies used to scale end FGM effort in their countries ranging from school outreach, intergenerational dialogue, youth convergence, Islamic conference on ending FGM, Nationwide Caravan tour, engagement with circumcisers, engagement with traditional and religious leaders, research, gaming, media campaign, training with legal and law enforcement agents, use of influential leaders in the communities etc. Indeed, it was a moment of reflection, reflecting on how far we had gone and what still needed to be done. The platform was equally used for networking, building bridges to connect the continent.

In the Gambia and Senegal, cross-border cutting is alarming and there is a gap in our anti-FGM laws. Thus the two anti-FGM Youth networks started preliminary discussions in Nairobi on how to cement the relationship through coordinated activities to influence policy change and ensure full implementation.

Summit focus areas

The summit was an interactive engagement for all the summit delegates and moderators. Below you can see the areas of discussions during the conference:-

  1. Why a youth summit to end FGM? Laying the foundations – group discussions
  2. Plenary session on why is now the moment to end FGM? – Panel discussion
  3. Activist café
  4. Plenary – learning and sharing from across the continent
  5. Skilling and equipping – what is the role if communication ending FGM
  6. Issues facing the movement to end FGM- advocacy, FGM legal framework- implementation and best practice
  7. Youth leadership in ending FGM
  8. Designing youth-led campaign pan-African Campaign to end FGM
  9. Recommendation and developing communicate messages

The summit concluded with the crafting of three key messages:-

  1. “The woman’s body is sacred, preserve it”.
  2. “Pass the knowledge not the knife”.
  3. “FGM is not my religion”- #NotInMyName


Despite the actions coming out of the summit, there are numerous challenges facing activists.  One of these is the lack of financial support to the grass root organizations who are effecting changes in their communities.  This, in particular, stands out as a deterrence factor limiting the scaling up of abandonment of FGM campaigns. Ending FGM in this generation will remain a fantasy if donor/ funding institutions fail to support grassroots organization in their work to reach out to communities. These young people in different organizations are doing so much despite the difficult circumstances and backlashes they continue to receive from their own people. The local people have already perceived FGM as western ideology, as such it is impossible for western society to lead the campaign in African communities on their own because of differences in context, identity, values, tradition and societal norms among other things. You are already perceived differently with a different cultural background. This reminds me one of the community development principle “go to the people, live among them, start with what they know and build on what they have”.

Young people from Africa have already shown the commitment and are taking the lead to change the status quo. It is clear that change is happening and advocacy continues. “We know our custom and tradition more than anyone else because we are the tradition”. To attain to the abandonment of FGM in a generation funding agencies and institutions must remove the stringent funding criteria/regulations that deter or prevent grass root organizations from accessing funds to facilitate community engagement ending FGM. How can we (grassroots organisations) cascade facts on ending FGM in communities without funding?

Therefore, I request that you support grass root organizations. Revisit your organizational policy to accommodate grants for grass root organizations. This way we can ensure that ending FGM in a generation is attainable and realistic.