At international women's rights organisation Equality Now, we’re honored to work with activists, often survivors, who are defending women’s and girls’ rights at home, in schools and in their communities.
23-year-old Adama, from The Gambia and now living in the US, is one of them. Subjected to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) by her aunt and mother at age seven, she gained the support of her father who encouraged Adama to speak out.
FGM involves the partial or complete removal of external female genitalia for non-medical reasons, thereby interfering with the natural functions of girls’ and women's bodies.
It has zero health benefits and can have serious lifelong consequences including: chronic infections; cysts; severe pain during urination, menstruation and sexual intercourse; psychological trauma; and increased risk of infertility, labour complications and new-born death. The procedure itself can also be fatal.
Adama is leading the charge against FGM and is using her own experience to help others. The dynamic gender activist has been advocating for gender equality since she was 14 and is part of a vibrant and uncompromising youth movement committed to the Global Goal of ending FGM by 2030.
She firmly believes that young people need to take the initiative in engaging the public, policymakers, stakeholders, researchers and universities in the movement to end FGM.
Here, Adama shares in her own words:
5 things you should know to be a part of the anti-FGM movement
1. Gender equality. To everyone out there who thinks FGM is right, think about how you treat your girls. You are showing her that because she is a girl she is less important and that her body is somehow “impure.” You are saying that she needs to be circumcised, dress in a certain way, that she should focus on taking care of the house and getting married, and that she doesn’t need to be fully educated-- all for the pleasure of men. Meanwhile all you expect of your boys is to wake up, go to school and succeed. Are you being fair as a parent?
My father taught me that we are all the same. He grew up in conservative family, but raised two beautiful daughters and let us be ourselves. He told us to follow our hearts and that we didn’t have to do typical traditional things -- he never stopped us from wearing trousers : ) or forced us to observe any cultural practice which was not in our best interest. What I learned from my father, and from the gender inequality I see in The Gambia, is why I insist on fighting for human rights.
2. Pay attention to women and girls. Show real, genuine interest in what they are doing. We are an integral part of communities and through us, you can learn a lot about the issues we are dealing with. In many parts of the world women are breadwinners -- working mothers who are holding families together. It is one thing to ban FGM by law, but it is another to implement that law.
For most countries that ban FGM, but have yet to see a decrease in FGM, it is because their governments have not made significant efforts to enforce the law. Governments need to work with local organisations, researchers, activists and survivors to better address FGM locally and internationally. The Women’s March was just genius.
I applaud every person who saw the need to stand up for women and girls on that day. In seeing signs against FGM during the march, I realized people have been listening to us (FGM survivors) and if we continue to create awareness we can end it sooner than we anticipate.
3. Invest in young people. Give us opportunities and try to understand our point of view. We have different ideas, energies, and want to try different things. We equally want to understand other points of view. The goal should be to understand each other. That’s the only way we will end FGM in a generation.
Through my work with UNESCO and Sanctuary for Families, I’ve connected with thousands of young people around the world. My focus is on making sure they understand what FGM is, and why it needs to be eliminated.
It’s also important that we work with boys and young men. I’ve done awareness-raising sessions with boys and am proud to say that one of them has become a leading anti-FGM campaigner in the Gambia.
4. Collaboration and tolerance. Let’s put our differences aside. Only by working together and learning from each other will we be able to be successful. My father was my biggest role model. His rule was that my sister and I be tolerant and accept people. He taught me to speak up for the people who can’t speak for themselves.
The 2016 US 'End Violence Against Girls: Summit on FGM/C' that Equality Now co-presented with Safe Hands for Girls, the US End FGM/C Network and the United States Institute for Peace was a great summit – and the first one in the United States. As a survivor of FGM living in the USA, participating in that summit helped me connect with activists around the world and share my story. I joined the New York FGM coalition as a youth representative and our top priorities are to learn from each other and to end FGM and “vacation-cutting”.
5. And, probably the most important, is Education. We need to educate people about FGM. As activists we need tell people why we desperately need to eliminate this practice in our societies. It should be a part of school curriculums.
We need people to understand that there is no justification for FGM in any religious texts – not the Quran, the Bible or the Torah. It crosses all religious, socio-economic and geographic lines.
FGM is all about control and suppression of women’s sexuality. From my cultural perspective, it’s about keeping women “in their place.” For example, if you go outside, and you are harassed or raped, the belief is that it is your fault -- you should have stayed inside. The idea that uncircumcised women are ‘loose’ or that FGM is a way to keep girls chaste, is discriminatory and not true. There needs to be better sex education for women and men.
While progress to end FGM continues, we have also seen strong pushback and some backsliding from Kenya to Michigan in the US. But, with 200 million women and girls affected globally, and with girls getting cut at younger and younger ages, we can’t go back. It will take everyone working together to end FGM.