Female genital mutilation (FGM) is an ancient ritual which involves the total or partial removal of the external genitalia. U.N. data shows 21% of girls and women in Kenya have been cut. At the age of 15, Jaha Durureh, was set up for an arranged marriage with a man she had never met. She left her husband shortly after and started campaigning for girls’ right through Safe Hands for Girls which aims to end FGM, childhood marriages and other forms of violence against women and girls.
The youth-led movement also provides support to women and girls who are survivors of these practices. She has spread her campaign across Africa and the United States. More recently, Durureh also started a community gardening programme for about 600 women in Gambia, which allowed them to earn a small income from selling vegetables – and to refuse to allow their daughters to be cut.
FGM is often viewed as a religious, cultural or health issue, but one of the root causes is really poverty, with African women often financially dependent on men. “This practice will not end unless women are lifted out of poverty and donors stop wasting money on ineffective aid programmes. We don’t have high earnings, jobs that can significantly contribute to our country’s growth. The best way women can stand up for themselves and their rights is if they are able to earn a little more,” said Dukureh, who is also a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador.
According to global campaign group Girls Not Brides “More than one in five girls in Kenya is wed before the age of 18. President of Kenya,Uhuru Kenyatta promised to push for more women in power, keep all girls in school, tackle child marriage and end female genital mutilation (FGM).“We will make it compulsory for parents to send all children to primary and secondary school, which would prevent them from being married off young and boost the girls to opportunities and empower them to be future leaders” said Kenyatta.
World leaders have also pledged to end FGM by 2030, but UN data published recently showed that in some countries the rates are the same as 30 years ago, including in Gambia and Somalia, where the practice remains almost universal. Dukureh says politicians tend to shy away from the sensitive topic of FGM, the responsibility falls on charities to do the work. The human rights pioneer is optimistic that survivor-led campaigns will be able to convince more states to engage in the fight.
Dukureh’s story is documented in the film, “Jaha’s Promise” where she returns to Gambia to confront her father, politicians and the community over FGM. In the documentary, she describes how she was subjected to the most severe form of FGM as an infant and had to undergo another surgery in order to consummate her marriage. “When people listen to someone like me that has the lived experience, that has the grassroots knowledge that comes from my background … I do see that it’s working and I do see that people are getting it,” she said.