Female genital mutilation (FGM) is the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia. It is a procedure that is practiced for non-medical reasons and is typically performed on girls as young as just a few days old up to about 15 years.
The origins of FGM are unclear, as highlighted by the UNFPA and the World Health Organization, but according to nonprofit 28 Too Many researchers have traced the practice to Egypt in the 5th century, and believe it originated on the west coast of the Red Sea.
There are many reasons why the procedure is performed. Some cultures believe that removing female genitalia enhances male sexual pleasure, while others view FGM as a rite of passage for girls entering womanhood.
Although it is a cultural tradition practiced in many countries around the world, the procedure can have harmful physical and psychological side effects such as problems urinating and menstruating, bleeding, infection and cysts, higher risk of maternal and infant mortality, and long term physical and mental trauma, among others.
According to the World Health Organization, 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone FGM — and over 3 million girls are at risk of undergoing it every year.
Bringing awareness to FGM is essential to bringing the abusive practice to an end. These activists are among those raising their voices for the cause, and have been able to influence governments and policy makers to pass laws against FGM in more than 59 countries.
They have been able to spread the word about how harmful the procedure can be and educate people all around the world — one way to support their efforts is by using your own social platforms to amplify their message.
1. Ann-Marie Wilson, UK
On #IWD2020 I stand with women targeted for their gender & persecuted for their faith. #ISeeYou#GenerationEquality@OpenDoorsUK@28TooMany@StBsNL@churchofengland@CofEPioneering@cmsmission@bishopSarahM@bpedmontonpic.twitter.com/5C4K05MBWM— Ann-Marie Wilson, BCA (@AM28toomany) March 8, 2020
Dr. Ann-Marie Wilson is a psychologist and FGM activist who worked in human resources for 22 years before she launched a counselling practice in northern Uganda and northern Kenya, as well as Sudan.
While in West Darfur, Sudan, she encountered an 11-year-old girl who had both undergone FGM and been raped. It was then that she realized the need to speak up for girls at risk of violence.
Dr. Wilson is the founder and executive director of 28 Too Many, an organization that undertakes country-specific research and shares knowledge with key influencers, encouraging them to take action and raise awareness in order to prevent FGM and protect girls.
2. Jaha Dukureh, The Gambia
Women’s rights and FGM activist Jaha Dukureh, from the Gambia, experienced FGM when she was just over a week old. Dukureh became a prominent figure after launching an online petition, which received more than 200,000 signatures, calling on the Obama administration to conduct a study on cases of FGM in the US.
In 2013, Dukureh founded the Safe Hands for Girls organization, which supports women and girls who have gone through FGM or are at risk of it. Jaha was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 and is currently a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador for Africa.
3. Purity Soinato Oiyie, Kenya
“I was only 10 or 11 years old, when my father decided to circumcise me..." -- Purity Soinato Oiyie, Kenya.— UN Women (@UN_Women) April 8, 2018
See how women's rights advocates like her raised their voices at #CSW62: https://t.co/kzcIMlqcclpic.twitter.com/eqGjnRGBTh
Purity Soinato Oiyie was 11 years old when she escaped FGM and child marriage. She now works with World Vision and the Kenyan anti-FGM board to raise awareness, especially among people in more rural villages.
At age 22, Oiyie addressed the UN’s largest gathering on gender equality and women’s rights, the 62nd UN Commission on the Status of Women, and is described as UN Women as “an inspiration for girls in her community.”
“What we need is free education for girls,” she told UN Women, adding that she wants to set up a foundation called “Silan” — meaning “girl” in Maasai — and build a school so all girls can have an education, including those married young and mothers.
Oiyie is currently not active on social media, but she is associated with UN Women.
4. June Eric-Udorie, UK
June Eric-Udorie is a writer, feminist campaigner, and co-founder of Youth for Change UK, a movement of young activists who worked on fighting against FGM and child marriage in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and the UK. Eric-Udorie, has also written for a variety of newspapers and magazines in the UK, highlighting the importance of public awareness of FGM and forced marriages around the world.
She first learned about the practice when she was 14, when she discovered that her grandmother saved her mother from FGM.
“I was horrified to learn of the practice, and the fact that millions of girls worldwide were still at risk of this gross violation of human rights,” she wrote in a 2017 article for Elle magazine, after being named its Female Activist of the Year.
“I really felt like if I kept quiet, then I was complicit in this act, and I felt compelled to act and do something,” she told Pacific Standard Magazine.
5. Mona Eltahawy, Egypt-America
Feminist author and journalist Mona Eltahawy first learned about FGM while she was a student in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Eltahawy was with friends when they came across an article about FGM in a magazine.
“I had never heard of it,” she wrote in a Guardian article. “When I later learned that some women in my extended family in Egypt had been subjected to it as young girls, my world came apart. I became obsessed.”
6. Josephine Kulea, Kenya
Dr. Josephine Kulea is an activist from the Samburu tribe in northern Kenya, a deeply patriarchal community. FGM and child marriages are prevelant in the community Kulea grew up in — but she was fortunate to have a mother who supported her and her sisters in getting an education.
Her activism started when she was in 6th grade, when she rescued her cousin from a village after she was beaded — a practice where where a young girl is presented with a beaded necklace by an older relative, which means he can have sex with her. She later ensured her uncle arrested for subjecting her 7-year-old cousin to FGM and child marriage.
In 2011, Kulea established Samburu Girls Foundation (SGF), a nonprofit organization that saves girls from practices such as FGM, child marriage, and beading. The foundation has rescued over 1,180 girls who are then enrolled in schools — with 326 currentlyin school around the country.
The foundation also has community outreach programs in various villages, where they educate communities about their rights — given that FGM and child marriage are illegal in Kenya. It has also built a community center on 19 acres of land donated by the community.