“Sustainable Development demands full human rights for all women and girls.” — UN Secretary-General
Six years ago on 6 February, the international community including civil society and United Nations agencies gathered at the United Nations Headquarters in New York to observe the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). To date, many UN agencies have accelerated efforts to ensure the global abandonment of the practice by 2030 and many young women and girls have actively stood up and spoken publicly about the practice. The day helps bring awareness of this practice and reinforces commitment and pursuit of advocacy and activism towards complete elimination of the practice for the new generation. For many young men and women, the day is a time to collectively reflect on the protection of the rights of young women and girls and ensure the removal of structural, cultural, and institutional practices that inhibit their development.
Throughout the goals of the 2030 Agenda and the specific targets of SDG 5 on gender equality, the empowerment of women and girls is widely recognised as key to development, including ensuring that quality education is accessible and inclusive. Ending all forms of discrimination, and eliminating every form of violence against women and girls including harmful practices such as early and forced marriages and FGM are priority targets envisioned to be abolished by 2030.
When Jaha Dukureh went on a mission to question the existence of FGM, she was not aware of the impact her gesture would have. Jaha’s promise is a story of hope, bravery and empowerment. As a result of her bravery, many countries have recognized the practice as a direct violation of human rights of women and girls. In addition, experts believe that FGM has no health benefits for women and girls and may predispose them to further health complications. As of 2017, more than 200 million women and girls alive across 30 countries had underwent the procedure (UNICEF, WHO : 2017). Despite the recent progress and global condemnation of the practice, many young women and girls continue to fall to the risk of FGM especially in most of Africa, the Middle East and Asia. In commemoration of the International Day of Zero tolerance for FGM and the upcoming International Women’s Day, the Youth Flash team interviewed Jaha Dukureh and asked her about her views on FGM.
Question: As a young woman, what does this day (International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM) mean to you ?
Jaha Dukureh: To me, this day means that as a global community, we have taken a stand to stand with 200 million women living with the consequences of FGM. We have also made a decision that this is a tradition we do not wish to carry forward. This day is also a reminder that we want better for our children- young people all over the world are deciding that they want a better world for their daughters.
Question: A few years ago, you led a campaign that effectively led to the abolition of FGM in your country, can you tell us more about it?
Jaha Dukureh: I went back to the Gambia and led a youth movement against FGM. After one year of tirelessly campaigning with other young people and boldly using the media to spread our message, I was able to get an audience with then-President Yahya Jammeh and his cabinet, which led to FGM being banned and our parliament passing a law against it. Being from the Gambia, and being a young person, contributing to something that changed many lives in our country was a highly rewarding experience.
Question: How can girls and other young women be protected against FGM?
Jaha Dukureh: Ending FGM is a political decision. Governments around the world should be held accountable for protecting girls. By raising more awareness, we educate people and communities to the danger of FGM and its harmful effects. Girls can thus be protected by letting them be the change we want to see in their communities.
Question: SDG 5 calls for the elimination of harmful practices on young women and girls, including FGM, how do you think this can be achieved?
Jaha Dukureh: I will talk about Africa in particular for this question. I believe the Africa Union and other regional bodies should pass resolutions and put pressure on its member states to implement laws passed and put monetary support behind efforts against FGM in their country budgets.
Question: What advice do you have for other youth, young women and girls who may fall victim of FGM but are not able to speak up against it? Jaha Dukureh: The ways we achieve the elminiation of FGM might differ but I would like to tell them that by speaking out, not only do we save others, but we also heal ourselves in the process.
About Jaha Dukureh:
Jaha Dukereh was born in 1990 in Gambia. She is a women’s rights activist and an anti-FGM campaigner. After being subjected to the practice herself, she was adamant to use her voice and raise awareness about the practice in her country and globally. This led to the outlawing of FGM in the Gambia. Jaha then founded the Safe hands for Girls, an organization that is dedicated to end FGM altogether. For her activism, in 2016, she was listed as one of TIME magazine 100 Most Influential People in the world. Jaha earned a B.A in Business Administration from the George Southwestern State University and now resides in the United States with her family. Follow her on twitter @JahaENDFGM.