By Adama Lee Bah
For International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) observed on 6 February, equalitynow.org spoke with their partner, Adama Lee Bah, a dynamic gender and media activist from The Gambia who now lives in the US.
Adama was subjected to FGM by her mother and aunt at age seven and is committed to ending FGM in a generation. Today, Adama shares the top things everyone needs to know to be a part of the global movement to end FGM:
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. I also love Leyla Hussein’s documentary where she spoke to college men about FGM. It was powerful, and by the end some of the men were crying – saying ‘why would you do that to a woman or girl?’
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.
I am not a victim, I am survivor. I’m proud to be part of the youth movement that is challenging the idea that girls should be cut, just because ‘it’s what’s been done.’ FGM is not culture. It is abuse. #Zero Tolerance
Learn more about Equality Now’s work to end female genital mutilation. TAKE ACTION.
Adama Lee Chairs the Unesco Youth Committee of the Global Alliance for Partnerships on Media and Information Literacy and is the Youth Representative to the New York Anti-FGM Coalition. As a student of media literacy, she notes the many positive effects from youth media organisations that focus on girls’ empowerment. She feels that gender-specific media and information literacy education can change girls’ relationships among themselves and with their bodies. However, she feels that the effects of these organisations are limited unless society recognizes the need for media and information literacy and the impact of media and other information providers on girls. Adama strongly believes that “it is up to girls to create their own media content and to critically analyse information and content that represents us.”