On Thursday, the campaign’s leading advocates gathered across the street from the UN headquarters in New York City, which has been hosting this week’s United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, to discuss the next steps needed to end the practice, a procedure that removes part, or all, of the external female genitalia.
“We need your help to reach the girls in the most remote areas of the world,” Jaha Dukureh, who has been leading the campaign against FGM in the US, told a huge audience at an event sponsored by the Guardian.
Gambian-born Dukureh, a 25-year-old mother of three and an FGM survivor herself, called on the audience to do more than hold conferences and create laws to stop the practice. “We need to reach girls before FGM happens,” Dukureh said.
With the support of the Guardian, Dukureh launched a change.org petition in May 2014 to encourage the US government to conduct prevalence studies into the practice. It was backed by 221,000 people and in July 2014, Obama announced that the US would investigate prevalence rates. Unpublished draft figures, which were shared with the Guardian last month, show that more than 500,000 women in the US are estimated to be at risk or have been subjected to the practice.
Dukureh called for an end to conferences about FGM in favour of using the money for on-the-ground support and advocacy. “It’s like preaching to the choir,” said Dukureh, to a clapping audience that included lawyers and doctors who oppose FGM.
She specifically called for the funding of a bus to drive around the US and The Gambia to teach people about the effects and prevalence of FGM. She hopes the vehicle could help the movement reach girls, celebrities and community leaders.
“There is no time to waste,” said Domtila Chesang, an anti-FGM campaigner who witnessed the practice while growing up in Kenya.
Cutting ceremonies were just a normal part of Chesang’s life until she attended her cousin’s ceremony at the age of 11. After watching the first part of the ceremony with a crowd, she later snuck off to the other, more clandestine, part of the ritual. There, she saw her cousin surrounded by people and her genitals were gone, “completely red, bare and nothing left”, she said.
That’s when she thought: “This is going to happen to me? No way.”