10 September 2015

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

The last few months have seen us work in five countries, as well as delivering training to UK faith leaders and working with  the police, schools, government departments (DCLG and DfID) and sponsoring two major awareness raising campaigns to support the good progress being made to tackle FGM in the UK. Some of the highlights are detailed below.

Educating on FGM across Europe

In May we were honoured to speak about FGM at key conference on Genital Autonomy in Frankfurt, Germany. The wide ranging agenda for this conference included sessions on inter sex issues, male circumcision and links with violence across gender groups.   

Working with Ogilvy and Mather we launched a striking poster campaign using images of the flags of various European countries to highlight that FGM does not only happen in far away places but is an urgent issue across Europe. The campaign reached many people and was recognised with a number of prestigious awards. 

We were pleased to be a supporting organisation for the UK’s first ever billboard campaign against FGM. Initiated by a group of students working with FGM survivors, the billboards were displayed in London raising awareness of FGM and how those affected can get help.

Addressing over 3000 faith leaders in Uganda 

After hosting Pastor Medad from World Shine Ministries at the Girl Summit last summer, we were honoured to be asked to address a major conference on FGM that he organised in Uganda. During the week-long trip to Uganda, I delivered six seminars on FGM, the law, education, gender and marriage as well as visiting a number of local schools and street projects.

Meeting 100s of leaders in West Africa

Having published our FGM in The Gambia FGM Country report in March, my colleague Tina and I headed off to West Africa for a month, initially travelling to Banjul, The Gambia, where FGM affects 76.3% of girls and women. 

Our first meeting was with three men from the Mandinka, Jolof and Fula people groups who spoke of how their sisters and communities have been affected by FGM. They invited us to address a Women's meeting in rural Gambia on Saturday and we gladly accepted. We also met a couple heading back to Basse, six hours away, complete with donkey cart and a dozen ducks. The woman, Elizabeth, had witnessed FGM at a cutting ceremony and cried as she told us what she had seen. After our meeting she went away equipped with information to share with the women of her village. Our second day was spent with 300 children in a local school and with 3 youth activism charities. Kids Come First, Safe Hands for Girls and Think Young Women all aim to rally African survivors and encourage young people to be the first in their families to not practice FGM. In a country of youth, their role in ending FGM is key. 

Another day we spent with UNICEF, the government's Information Office and the Law Faculty of the University. As the draft FGM bill has not yet passed into statute, much debate followed over how important this is to help end FGM in The Gambia. Our research on FGM shows that when a Government passes such a bill it facilitates other action against FGM. The law needs to clearly state that FGM is a crime and that those responsible for it will be held accountable. Knowledge of the law empowers more people to find courage and strength to defend their human rights.  During the rest of the week we visited The Standard newspaper who had just boldly published an article on 30 girls who were cut the previous weekend, and after our visit they also published a further piece on FGM featuring an interview with Ann-Marie.  We also spent a day meeting NGOs GAMCOTRAP and Action Aid. We shared resources, ideas and campaigns and watched training resources on sensitising communities to FGM. Video footage of FGM is always upsetting to see, but it is often the only way for men to know what the practice entails, and watching this is saving lives. 

During our visit we saw that much is being done to raise awareness but FGM remains prevalent in many parts of The Gambia. Even as we met with anti-FGM campaigners, we were told that June was the cutting month and, as seen in the newspaper report, many girls were undergoing FGM. There are many barriers to overcome such as a lack of education, resistance to change and the misconception that FGM is a religious requirement. However the women and men we met want this practice eradicated and they have the self-belief and stamina to keep fighting for this cause.  

All too soon, we headed to Senegal and we enjoyed the Senegalese/French culture, during an intense week of 17 meetings. FGM affects 26% of the population here - rising as high as 92%in the South and East of the country. There is still a lot to do to end the practice but it was good to meet people committed to achieving this aim.

On the day 28 Too Many’s Country Profile: FGM in Senegal report launched Tina and I met with the Minister of Families and the United Nationals Joint Project programme to end FGM. They were pleased to have a dedicated report on FGM across Senegal and invited us to a prestigious press launch and dinner the next day, to also share the report with UNICEF , AIDOS,  Tostan and 50 other stakeholders in the campaign to end FGM. It was useful to be able to meet representatives from the Government who form legislation and policy to end FGM, and the UN, who fund global strategies and help with the National Action Plan for countries such as Senegal.

Having met numerous times at conferences in New York and London, whilst in Dakar I was delighted to be able to spend time and share strategies with Tostan, who have programmes in The Gambia, Mali and Senegal. We also met Peace Corps, Amnesty International's West Africa Coordinator and AIDOS, who use radio to reach illiterate women with FGM messages.

Health services are critical in ending FGM so it was great to meet the Professor of Psychiatry, Chief of Hann Hospital and a gynaecology team at the other lead hospital in Dakar. We also met teams from three international faith based NGO'S working across these three countries in West Africa to end FGM. Their teams now have the 28 Too Many reports to share with the ethnic groups that practice FGM and I am so pleased that they find these helpful to their work. 

Finally, and most strategically, we met the Presidents of three indigenous associations working in women's health and across Senegal. We briefed all of them and distributed our report. They wish to partner with 28 Too Many in the future and we are delighted to assist as we can.  Overall our visit to Senegal felt hugely positive. We see the seeds of change and we are privileged to do our part to help that happen.

In the third country of our visit, Mali, I joined Gemma, our in-country researcher. In Mali FGM affects over 91% of women and girls. We were delighted to meet four significant national NGOs: AMSOPT, ASDAP, PACT and Sini Sanuman, to share our report on FGM in Mali with them and to support their important work. Gemma, who lives in Kayes, where FGM has the highest prevalence, was pleased to be invited to see local groundwork when she returned home.

Throughout our meetings with international NGOs including Plan,Islamic Relief, Save the Children, Amnesty International, Helvetas and Tostan, we were pleased to see the intentionality of their work. It was especially good to meet Islamic Relief, as we visited in the middle of Ramadan, and we had an important discussion about our shared understanding that FGM has no place in Islam. This is an important message which needs to be passed on to all communities.

In a country where for complicated reasons there is no anti-FGM law, we were particularly pleased to be granted audiences with the Ministry for Women, Children and Families, the British Ambassador to Mali, a research journalist from the US and three meetings with UNICEF. Through these we have been able to share our knowledge of FGM across the nine countries where we have completed our reports and our reflections on the current barriers to reducing rates of FGM in Mali. Gemma was impressed by the support to end FGM: ‘Mali can be side-lined from global campaigns and funding due to its recent troubles, so it is good that key actors wish to use our report, disseminate it to other players and work with us to achieve our joint ultimate goal to eradicate FGM.’

Whilst visiting Gambia, Senegal and Mali, we have been honoured and humbled to be called ‘a catalyst’, ‘a bringer of change’ and ‘a stirrer of the pot of rice’. We are pleased to have made a contribution to sharing knowledge about this complex practice and in the fullness of time we hope that we can live up to these titles. There is serious interest in a gathering in Mali to further discuss the findings of this research, and to work together to overcome the obstacles and barriers to change. With hope, the power of synergy and goodwill, we expect to see a reduction in the statistics on FGM for Mali in three years’ time when we launch an updated version of our report.

The Girl Summit – one year on

July marked the anniversary of the inaugural Girl Summit which was held in London in 2014. We were pleased to be able to report the successful fulfilment of the commitment we made at the Summit through our pioneering anti-FGM project with the Maasai Cricket Warriors and Cricket Without Boundaries in Laikipia, Kenya. It was great to have our project included in the publication highlighting actions that followed the Summit.

Finally thank you to all our team for their continued hard work and to all our supporters for all your encouragement.  After taking some well-deserved holiday in August we are now looking forward to a busy autumn with renewed energy and excitement to build on the progress against FGM that we are now seeing in many countries.

If you can please make a donation to help support our work 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.