Today is International Day of the Girl Child. Created by the United Nations, it is a day to raise awareness of the challenges that millions of girls face every day and support girls’ progress all around the world. From education to child marriage, this day harnesses the dreams and potential of young girls’ that are often thwarted by discrimination, violence and a lack of equal opportunities.
Statistics compiled by Unicef showed that at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone ritual cutting, with a further estimation of 3 million girls at risk of undergoing FGM every year.
In England & Wales, there are an estimated 137,000 women and girls that have undergone FGM, the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. This cruel procedure is endured by girls between the ages of 0 – 18 yrs.
The consequences of FGM are endless; severe pain, shock, haemorrhage, tetanus or infection, urinary infection, septicaemia… and they aren’t just physical. From the day they are cut, psychological effects can consume them for the rest of their lives.
We spoke to author, speaker & FGM campaigner Hibo Wardere, a victim of Type 3 FGM at just 6 years old in her native country of Somalia. Here, 98% of the female population between the ages of 15 and 49 have been cut.
Now living in London, Hibo strives to educate children in schools about FGM and the traumatising effects it can have throughout teenage and adult life, as well as lobby for global change and the eradication of FGM. We spoke to her about her book, her mission and what needs to be done to stop this inhumane procedure for good.
Marmalade: Your book, ‘Cut’, was published in April this year. What inspired you to write it?
Hibo Wardere: I was contacted by a lady from a publishing company to write a book about FGM. At first, I thought – why me? There were people more famous than me and their stories were more well-known, but she told me that my story was compelling and raw, which captured her.
From the beginning to the very end, the content was detailed – no blocking, no hiding any information – we made a pact that we would cover every detail. It was emotionally draining, mentally challenging and exhausting.
M: What was the importance of writing the book for you?
HW: The book gives hope… there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. There are millions of women out there who have suffered and are still suffering. There are many, many women with similar stories to mine who think there is no reason to discuss FGM.
It was a chance to reach out to these women who might, after reading the book, look for help. It is also an educational tool to spread the message that future generations should eradicate this practice.
M: What is your personal mission?
HW: To get the subject of FGM in the curriculum and continue spreading the message. FGM is child abuse and is not normal. I will continue working with many different charities to ensure that my message reaches far and wide; a united front is better than tackling an issue on your own.
M: FGM is a prevalent topic across the media here in the UK. We collaborated with Plan International UK to raise awareness with the #FGMrose campaign. Do you feel this kind of content is making a difference?
HW: It has made a huge difference and taken FGM to a broader audience. I always have a radio interview to go to, speaking to TV hosts and newspapers, or speaking to charities about it. All of these mediums have played a huge part in raising awareness; viral video campaigns also play a huge part.
The NHS have a great website and a booklet that defines everything FGM related in English that is easily understood by everyone. They are doing very well in their approach – training their staff, raising awareness, so that everyone can understand what it is and how we can manage and eliminate it.
M: Is this mass media coverage going to make a difference in communities outside of the Western world?
HW: The more everyone knows about it, the more funding we can get to go out to other countries, where FGM is the biggest issue. The Orchid Project have been out to these countries and taught communities about human rights, influencing over 7.5 thousand people to abandon the traditional rituals of FGM.
It is vital that charities like these engage the root of the problem and educate directly, getting deep into the roots and tackling the issue from there (locally) knowledge is freedom.
M: What more needs to be done on the ground to raise awareness of the issue?
HW: They must make it part of the curriculum – education is the magic key. We need to approach the issue from a young age and target children as they go through the transitional phase from primary to secondary school.
We need to be teaching them what is normal and what is not normal. I cannot emphasise how important this knowledge and education is for young people around the world.
To watch our work with Plan International UK to raise awareness of FGM, click here: #FGMrose
Follow Hibo on Twitter here: @HiboWardere