1 December 2015

Update from 28 Too Many Executive Director Ann-Marie Wilson - November 2015

A quarterly update from Executive Director Ann-Marie Wilson.

Cause for celebration!

We were delighted to partner with Ogilvy and Mather, a leading advertising agency, to roll out a European poster campaign informing the general population about FGM. The “It Happens Here” campaign featured posters of six European flags (UK, The Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Scotland and Italy) across billboards, university campuses,and the media. It has had a huge impact,achieving its goal of informing people that FGM doesn’t just happen “over there” – whether “there”is Africa, Asia, the Middle East or other diaspora countries, but something that affects 180,000 women and girls at risk in Europe every year.

We were both surprised and delighted that as well as its initial impact, the campaign has also gone on to win a number of prestigious awards, including two GoldLion awards at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, top WPPED Cream Award from WPP, and numerous gold and silver awards including a Grand Clio for print and Advertiser of the Year for 28 Too Many at the recent Clio Awards in New York (see photo above). This has previously been won by leading internationalcompanies Nike and Google. Our trustee director Hoda Ali attended the award ceremony in New York and I accepted the award in London. This is a huge achievement for 28 Too Many and helps us reach many, many more people with our important messages. We want to thank everyone who has helped us with this important and life changing work.

Training the 5,000!

It is also time to celebrate our latest annual review – our third for the charity. Apart from launching four more research reports this year, in Sierra Leone, Mali, Liberia and The Gambia, we have worked in Germany, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates,Kenya, Uganda, Mali, Senegal and The Gambia. We spoke at summits and international conferences in Kenya,Switzerland and the UK, and worked on programmes in Kenya and Uganda. We also collected 350 faith leader’s pledges, which has led to our work for the Department of Local Government and Communities (DCLG) in training over 200 community and faith leaders as anti-FGM trainers.

We have also worked to train teachers, school pupils,health professionals, faith leaders, police and lawyers whilst also raising the awareness of around 5,000 people through talks, workshops and presentations to community and faith groups across England, Scotland and Wales.

Muna’s story from Ethiopia

It is just two years since I visited Ethiopia, where around 23.8 million girls and women have undergone FGM.
The prevalence nationally is 74 per cent but rises to 97 per cent in the south east, bordering with Somalia.
I worked in Ethiopia in 2011 and visited FGM projects,hospitals, schools and NGOs. I was pleased to visit the
Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital and their rehabilitation centre,Desta Mender, and spoke with Dr Catherine Hamlin, the hospital founder and their CEO. I remember hearing the moving stories of the women in the hospital. Many had been abandoned by their husbands and families because of incontinence and smell resulting from their fistula and they felt deep shame and isolation.

During my research in Ethiopia, I heard this story from Muna from the Afar area of Ethiopia. Muna had FGM Type III on the seventh day of her life. After marriage at the age of 10, she had her second child at age 15. At full term, her labour lasted 12 days and the baby was stillborn. She told me: “A week later, I could not walk and my urine flowed constantly.” She was treated with local remedies but advised to go to Addis Ababa for “repair” but did not have the funds. Her husband left her and she cared for her parents. In time, her fistula led to foot drop and she said: “I could no longer cut the wood from our land for money.” Soon after, her parents died. One day a pastor was taking one of his two daughters to a fistula clinic and wanted a stopover.

Muna says: “The villagers sent them to me as my room already smelled of urine. Later, to repay the thanks, they helped raise funds from an NGO for me to go myself. I can now enter church again which I couldn’t do before I got treatment. I now want to train as a nurse at the Hamlin Hospital. I do not want this to happen to my child.”

This story highlights why we all need to work together to end FGM – governments, NGOs, academics, media and communities. There is evidence that attitudes to FGM are changing and many affected by FGM want the practice to end. With support and resources we can build on this and help bring about change in more and more communities until eventually FGM is eradicated.

I revisited Ethiopia in 2014 (FGM rates appeared to had fallen by up to 5.6 per cent over five years when
we produced our report in 2013). We have a volunteer researcher visiting Ethiopia this year, who will help us
update our report for next year.

Working with the Maasai

Inspirational cricket team The Maasai Cricket Warriors (MCW) is changing the game in Kenya by launching an anti-FGM programme from within its own community.The team’s young people,supported by a week’s trip from 28 Too Many and the sports development charity Cricket Without Boundaries (CWB), are using MCW’s growing reputation to tackle social issues. These include working towards the eradication of gender inequality,FGM and early marriage via a pilot for a new, sport-based programme run in the team’s own community in the region of Laikipia.

The project team of MCW,CWB and 28 Too Many began by meeting the local Maasai chief and elders, who subsequently stated publicly that here was “no place for FGM in their community”. Those who continued the practice would be reported to the police. The team also secured the support of the deputy commissioner and the head of police, which was essential for ensuring community member participation in the programme.

In local school playgrounds, we coached more than 1,750 children and young people of all ages in cricket and FGM awareness, and 25 adults, including teachers, youth workers and health professionals, were trained to be ongoing coaches. To round off the project, MCW led a celebratory day of cricket and encouraged the community to stand against FGM by declaring that their sisters and daughters would not be cut. The community has committed to end FGM, and wants to run further programmes,taking the message to neighbouring villages.

A new documentary film “Warriors”, which we saw as it premiered in London in July, is being released this autumn. It is a beautiful and inspiring film highlighting the important changes taking place to end FGM in the Maasai. If you would like to see the film please visit the film website for details of how to see it.  The eagle eyed may spot the photo of our project team (including me) in the film’s closing credits.

Valuing woman in Maasai communities

Mary Lazia was born in 1973 into a relatively wealthy Maasai family. When she was 14,her mother told her about FGM, a celebrated process by which Mary would become a woman. Mary’s mother made no mention of FGM’s negative aspects, telling her that it was a harmless procedure that would bring glory and respect to her parents and to herself, and would only involve a small cut which would take a matter of days to heal. “The most important thing that my mother told me”, says Mary, “was that a woman in Maasai society is nothing without a man to marry and that FGM is promotion to that very dignified grade at which Maasai women shall only be able to attain self-perfection under the shelter and protection of her husband.”

Mary eagerly awaited her turn to be cut and promised her parents that she would neither let them down nor cry. When the time came, however, Mary was shocked by the reality of FGM, and her eagerness turned to terror and fear for her life. It was months before she could leave her bed.

Mary was married at 19, and she began to further understand the lies she has been fed by her parents and her community. Sexual intercourse was a problem, and Mary was unable to enjoy sex throughout her married life. Mary also suffered obstructed labour and required surgical intervention to deliver her first child safely. Eventually, the “shelter and protection of her husband” proved wholly inadequate when he abandoned her and their three children. Yet Mary has also come to understand that she has value beyond her relative worth to a man. Now an anti-FGM activist, she oversees alternative rites-of-passage ceremonies and her own daughter’s alternative ceremony was witnessed by her relatives, in-laws, and the community’s elders and traditional cutters. Mary’s life is a demonstration of how destructive cycles can be broken and harmful practices abolished.

We also have a young activist in Kenya, Nancy, partnering with our UK youth ambassador to help educate school girls on the harm of FGM. Our Africa co-ordinator, Esther Njenga, based in Nairobi,
will attend the “Warriors” launch there, and continue to work with Cricket Without Boundaries and Maasai Cricket Warriors as we plan to do a follow up educational visit in 2016.

Thank you to everyone who helps make our work possible and if you can please make a donation to help us continue in our efforts to end FGM. A small monthly donation would make a huge difference to us so please consider setting up a standing order. There are many other ways to give and please email donate@28toomany.org for details. You can also support us by liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter.