Saturday, 9 January 2010

A finalist to get to Davos!

Please visit here: and vote for me to go to Davos.

This is the opportunity I've been dreaming about.

When I made my pitch to Davos, via YouTube, things were cut due to time constraints.

My ardent belief, which keeps me awake at night, is that this topic MUST be debated in the mainstream. This is what Davos offers: a space where business leaders, politicians, scientists, religious leaders, cultural gurus and the media meet. Every single one of these has a part to play in ending FGM.

It also aligns with my personal philosophy, having "grown up" in a career where the partnership between business, government and civil society was the only way to effect lasting change.

My thinking is straightforward. The overall objective is to end female genital mutilation within the next generation. I believe that at the moment there are three main needs:
  • raise global awareness;
  • get decision makers to increase resources and funding;
  • get this money to communities on the ground.

There are many proven interventions, that advocate working with communities to ensure that their voices are heard. The best model for this is modelled on social change theory - I've discussed it before here and it comes from UNICEF/Innocenti research.

To access this, go to this link:

You'll see many documents about abandonment strategies. These have been operating in communities in Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea - where prevelance is well over 80%. I've copied a UNICEF press release later in this post, to outline their position. However, whilst UNICEF have the model, what is lacking is the massive implementation that this needs to allow change to happen. You will see that the press release is dated November 2005 - almost five years old. Yes, there is some gradual change in some communities, but it is not enough.

It is also not UNICEF's job alone. Changing FGM is going to require a massive shift in positions to swing a pendulum back towards allowing women more access to decide their own futures and self-autonomy. In this, everyone has a role - communities, civil society, governments, legal bodies, regional committees and international interests. Even business has a role to play.

So this is why you must send me to Davos - so that I can make that case volubly, stand in front of those who have their hands on various levers of power and help them decide to shift and pull together to make change happen.

I believe that's in my gift. Please help me get there.


UNICEF Press release - 24 November 2005

Female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) affects far more women than previously thought. Recent data reveal that an estimated three million girls and women are cut each year on the African continent (Sub-Saharan Africa, Egypt and Sudan). This harmful practice is a fundamental violation of girls’ and women’s human rights.

• FGM/C is becoming a global problem. Not only is FGM/C practiced among communities in Africa and the Middle East, but with increased population movements and migration, FGM/C is also an issue in immigrant communities throughout the world.

• Real social change is a lengthy and complex process. Still, there is every reason to be optimistic that with global support, FGM/C can be ended within a single generation. This is possible because we understand the elements needed to accelerate the abandonment of the practice within practicing communities.

• Never before has the global community had such a refined understanding of why FGM/C persists. FGM/C ensures a girl’s or woman’s status, marriageability, chastity, health, beauty and family honour. This deeply entrenched social and cultural tradition is so powerful that even when families are aware of the harm it can bring, they are willing to have their daughters cut.

• A number of promising initiatives are supporting communities to abandon FGM/C in Africa and the Middle East. The most successful guide communities to define the problems and solutions themselves. They encourage people to engage in non-judgemental public discussion. They equip families with knowledge on human rights and responsibilities. They encourage communities who have made the decision to abandon the practice to spread their message to their neighbours

• Communities cannot end FGM/C without support. In order to end FGM/C on a large scale and across countries, communities need to be supported through legislative and policy measures, fora for public debate, and culturally sensitive media messages. They also need support from religious leaders and other opinion makers.

• Engaging adolescents and young people is critical to promote the abandonment of the practice. Through meaningful participation, adolescents develop the tools they need to make decisions that affect their own lives and to break vicious cycles, including gender discrimination and violence, which are passed down from one generation to the next.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Honouring those killed, on the FGM frontlines

The recent news about Uganda passing legislation to outlaw FGM fills me with hope. Whilst laws can only be as strong as their enforcement, the messages this sends is a powerful one.

The link below is to a case study from a group that worked with the Sabiny people in 2002 - partly to show how far we've come in eight years, but also to show how entrenched this issue is in communities.

Somehow reading about the killings of the district official and the husband of the project co-ordinator because of their stance on FGM makes me feel that tribute has to be paid. Without them, we may not be where we are today. Sadly they are not named. It would have been nice to honour their memory.

The entire case study is on p35 of the Global Consultation on FGM/C, UNFPA, 2008

Here's to those who fight on the frontline against FGM, in spite of intimidation, in spite of violence, in spite of being ostracised for what you do. And for those of you who've died for the cause - well. There aren't really words, are there?

Happy New Year!

As the snow flutters down outside, inside, frenetic activity with the sudden realisation that my entry to the Davos competition may pay dividends.

Or then again, it may not. But at the end of the day, what's important is the trying....

It has really forced me to look at what outcomes I really want from this campaign. The end game is too simple for words. End FGM. Now. I think that says it all. Of course, there's a whole list of objectives that then can help with saying how to achieve that.

What strikes me today in my reading and clarifying is two things:

1) I can't find anywhere the global spend on FGM. My business training has taught me to find out where the money is and follow it. This is easier said than done in this situation. Anecdotally, I have a $44mn over 10 years figure, but cannot find the breakdown of that. And that's globally.

2) The UN inter-agency statement 2008 says that "The UN agencies confirm their commitment to support governments, communities and the women and girls concerned to achieve the abandonment of female genital mutilation within a generation."

But nowhere does it define what a generation is, or an end date. Would we get away with that in the corporate sector?

So without knowing the quantum of money being spent on FGM, over what term, how is it possible to assess the outcomes?

This whole debate needs to be so much sharper.

So, I turn back to drafting a holding page for, again with a few day's notice (and my huge thanks to Sam Deeks and Julian Burton at

Thanks again to Mike Brett at who helped me film the YouTube piece.

That's all for now - the next 36 hours should be revealing - if I'm in the top 5, all systems go!

If not, well, then I guess I live to fight another day. Hard to see which way it will go....

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Voltaire... 21 Century style

One of the many interesting things about volunteering on the frontline with the team at FORWARD is when we have to deal with email queries. I've posted before about how diverse these can be - everything from women seeking help, boyfriends talking about their girlfriends, women from as far afield as Australia asking about what to do....

And statements like this one:

"It is an absolute disgrace your organisation encourages
illegal immigration. Many women come to this country illegally, work as
prostitutes and claim the freedom to remain here due to being
"trafficked". This is simply illegal immigration and migration groups
across the country aim to put an end to your very sexist activities. Men
have been genitally mutilated for thousands of years. Why not support an
end to this practice. It is outrageous your organisation has been
registered as a charity. We will put an end to your women-only pursuits."

My response is here:

Dear Matthew

Thank you for taking the time to write. You've clearly engaged with some of the tricky issues around the complexities of immigration and our work.

We do believe in bodily integrity for all, but in this instance, feel that campaigning against male circumcision is best left to those organisations set up to cope with exactly that. You may want to look at some of their websites.

Part of the reason that so many people want to be in the UK is because of its record of human rights, free speech and tolerance, therefore we're happy to have had this dialogue with you as we believe passionately in these things.

As Voltaire famously said: "I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend ... your right to say it."

Perhaps my response was slightly misguided. It certainly doesn't allow me to vent my spleen as much as I'd like. And those among you who know their Voltaire will notice that I deliberately excluded the words "I'll defend to the death your right to say it" - no point in tempting fate!

I wonder if any of the organisations set up for male circumcision ever come across this sort of aggression? That is a genuine question - perhaps because so many discussions in the Twittersphere seem to equate female and male GM/C - I wondered if all the issues it raises are transferable?

Anyway - if anyone has any other ideas for responses, do please let me know - sadly this is a mildly aggressive email, compared with some that we receive....interestingly, Matthew did include his email address and his London (Chiswick?) based phone number. I've not been bold enough to call him up though!

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Mrs Goundo's Daughter

A screening last night, of the critically acclaimed film of "Mrs Goundo's Daughter" which seemed to outline so many of the current issues facing women. Some of the skill of the film was to get across the complexity of the forces around this issue - religion, misinformation, cultural prominence, patriarchal influence, the role of women in owning it themselves as a tradition.

Even more interesting was the juxtaposition of the life of Mrs Goundo, who lives in Dallas, Texas and the life she left behind her, in rural Mali.

A short post today, as I muse on whether to publish this photograph or not?

I was left after the screening last night, wondering if we had captured people's hearts, attention, minds - and how in fact to do that? Or whether they were simply shocked and felt that this is too big an issue to deal with? Too far away? Perhaps.

Oh - publish and be damned. If girls have to go through it, the least we can do is pay witness....

Photo: Robert Skinner

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Friday, 13 November 2009

And on a lighter note.....

Dressing up as a clitoris to help - an organisation that offers surgery to help rebuild the clitoris. Apparently this operation is more successful if the girl is cut later in life and if the severing of the clitoris is not too deep....

Incidentally, there is a discussion at the moment, following on from the BBCs coverage of warnings about labioplasty here in the UK. The general gist on twitter (which I'm losing faith with) is that labioplasty is the western form of FGM.

There is a simple reason why they're not comparable: choice. If women choose any type of surgery, that is their prerogative - they may be subliminally manipulated by the cultural hegemony in place, but at the end of the day, they undergo surgery and the risks to improve their own body image. As far as I can see it, labioplasty does not contravene a single Universal Human Right.

FGM on the other hand.... I'm not sure I even need to go any further. We can start with the age of the girl (anywhere from 9 days to beyond puberty), the absolute lack of choice, the horrific health impacts, the psychological impacts, the fact that it is not an anesthetized (sp?) operation.

In terms of human rights, FGM certainly contravenes the right to life and the right not to be tortured or treated in an inhuman or degrading way. It spans health rights, child rights and human rights.

So in short, a comparator of the two is not helpful - in my opinion, it actually undermines the severity of the issues that FGM raises.