More than 200 million women in 30 countries have been affected by female genital mutilation (FGM). FGM is an umbrella term that comprises procedures to remove or injure the external female genitalia for nonmedical reasons. While the practice is internationally recognized as a violation of human rights, it happens every day in countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, as well as Europe, the Americas and Australia.
The United Nations issued a global ban on FGM in 2012. Nigeria and Gambia made the practice illegal in 2015 and in the U.K. it is recognized as a form of child abuse.
This international recognition has been won by a multitude of anti-FGM campaigners throughout the world, from midwives to psychologists to activists who were cut themselves. Here, we highlight six of them.
Janet Fyle, MBE, is a registered nurse, registered practicing midwife and the Royal College of Midwives’ (RCM) professional policy adviser. She was born and educated in Sierra Leone and has worked for the U.K. National Health Service in women and children’s health for more than 20 years. Janet’s current role at the RCM includes providing policy advice on violence against women and girls, inequalities in health, women in prisons, asylum seekers, trafficked women and girls, pregnancy-related mental health problems and inequalities.
In 2013, she led the intercollegiate Group of Medical Royal Colleges, activists and FGM survivors in a groundbreaking initiative looking at how best health, education, social care systems and the police can work together to protect girls at risk of FGM. This resulted in the publication of the “Intercollegiate recommendations for identifying, recording and reporting FGM”, which was launched in the British Parliament in November 2013 and formed the basis for government policy and action on ending FGM in the U.K. The first recommendation, that FGM should be treated as child abuse, has been adopted by the U.N. Follow her on Twitter @consideredview.
Leyla Hussein is a British-Somali psychotherapist, lecturer, writer and social activist. She is the founder of Face of Defiance Foundation and Dahlia Project. Leyla is a female genital mutilation survivor and has been campaigning at the local and global level to end FGM and protect children from all forms of harm for more than 15 years. She has also worked as a youth and community outreach worker, sexual health adviser and counselling therapist in Greater London.
Hussein currently sits on the Special FGM Initiative Advisory Group and on Violence Against Women and Girls Scrutiny and Involvement Panel of the Crown Prosecution Service. She is also the global ambassador and a strategist for The Girl Generation, a social change and communication program aiming to end FGM in one generation, currently working in Kenya, Nigeria, Gambia, Sudan, Somaliland, Ethiopia, Egypt, Senegal, Burkina-Faso and Mali. Follow her on Twitter @LeylaHussein.
Aarefa Johari is an Indian journalist, feminist and activist speaking out against female genital mutilation/cutting in South Asia. She is also cofounder of Sahiyo, a transnational collective working to end FGM/C among the Dawoodi Bohras and other Asian communities through education, advocacy, storytelling and community engagement.
Johari was subjected to the practice of FGM/C herself, at the age of 7, and has been publicly speaking out against it since 2012. As a full-time journalist with the Indian news website Scroll.in, she reports and writes on gender, politics, human rights, urban development and culture. She has previously worked with Hindustan Times, a leading national daily. Follow her on Twitter @AarefaJohari.
Molly Melching is the founder and creative director of African community development organization Tostan. Having lived and worked in Senegal since 1974, Molly has received international recognition for her groundbreaking educational programs. Her early experiences in Senegal reinforced her belief that many development efforts were not addressing the needs and realities of African communities.
In collaboration with Senegalese villagers, Melching developed a new type of education program that actively involved both adults and youth by using African languages and traditional methods of learning. Their efforts grew throughout the 1980s, leading Melching to found Tostan in 1991 and lead as CEO for 26 years.
Melching and the Tostan program have received numerous awards and have sparked a movement led by villagers for the abandonment of harmful traditional practices. More than 8,000 communities in eight African countries have declared they have abandoned female genital cutting and child marriage. Follow her on Twitter @MollyJMelching.
Dr. Faith Mwangi-Powell
Dr. Faith Mwangi-Powell, MSc, PhD, is global director for The Girl Generation, a global platform galvanizing the Africa-led movement to end female genital mutilation. She has more than 18 years’ cumulative experience in public health and public health program management across Africa and Southeast Asia, including working as the founding executive director of the African Palliative Care Association and supporting palliative care global advocacy and services development in more than 20 African countries.
Her expertise includes: health systems strengthening; quality improvement; maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH); HIV/AIDS, including orphans and vulnerable children (OVC), and child protection; policy development; research; advocacy; sexual reproductive health (SRH); human rights; gender; and palliative care. Follow her on Twitter @fmwangipowell.
Mariya Taher is cofounder and programs director at Sahiyo. She has worked in the anti-gender violence field for nearly a decade in the areas of research, policy, program development and direct service. In 2010 she received her Master of Social Work from San Francisco State University, where she pursued a qualitative study titled, “Understanding Female Genital Cutting in the United States.” Since then, she has worked on the issue of domestic violence at W.O.M.A.N., Inc., Asian Women’s Shelter and Saheli (support and friendship for South Asian women and families).
In 2014, she was a Women’s Policy Institute Fellow for the Women’s Foundation of California and her team successfully passed legislation to provide low-income survivors of domestic violence with basic needs grants. She has also been an adjunct lecturer at San Francisco State University, where she taught “Gender, Sexism and Social Welfare Institutions.”
In 2015, she cofounded Sahiyo to empower Asian communities to end female genital cutting. Mariya is also a prolific writer in fiction and nonfiction with essays and short stories appearing on NPR, Ms. Magazine and Brown Girl Magazine, among others. Follow her on Twitter @mariyataher83.