FGM: not simply a foreign problem happening to foreign girls

For those who were unable to make it, on 30th October 2014, here's a re-cap on FGM book launch that I was invited to.  

The event was held at the Impact Hub in King's cross right by the station. I don't know if you've ever been to this place - go there if you haven't. It's one of those secret yet not so secret central London locations that's a combination of cosy, spacious, organic, smart and comfortable. My new favourite place!

The evening began with the introductions hosted by Richard Mkoloma: Richard 'Rich Blk' Mkoloma and Saria Khalifa who spoke about FORWARD and how the organisation in collaboration with Richard Mkoloma made the whole project and book come to fruition.  We then watched a beautifully shot, short film which featured snippets of some of the poems that he and the youth group created. The short film was a poignant combination of interviews with those campaigning against FGM and dramatisation. It really made me think about the physical and emotional ramifications of FGM, not just for the victim but for those, also, connected to them. 

Straight after the film there was a q&a session with some of the authors. I was very impressed with how articulately these young ladies expressed why FGM is such an abhorrent act which needs to be abolished. What I especially liked was how the conversation always included the effect and influence men have on the subject and that, in many cases, men are as much a victim within the FGM culture as women. I began to realise that in order to eradicate this, unnecessary act of pain and mutilation, there has to be a dialogue, not an argument, with men in order to arrive at a permanent solution. 

At the back of the room there were 4 pieces of art work on display that were inspired by some of the poems within the book. They were called: This is- Our Inspiration, This is- Our Community, This is It: FGM and This Is; Our Life. There was also a q&a session with the graphic designers/artists who created these illustrations. These were: Gabrielle Smith, Justin McKenzie, Sadia Rafique and Lulu Kitololo. The front cover (which you can see in the video below) was designed by Charlie who explained that though quite harrowing; the research that she did on FGM was, utterly, necessary to enable her to design with authenticity. You can contact Charlie through her collaborative design space called: OddKinCreate 

Before the evening drew to a close, we were given the pleasure of hearing the poets read extracts from the book. I most enjoyed this as I was able to get a real sense of their passion through their words and expressions.

So what is FGM? It stands for Female Genital Mutilation and it involves the removal of the clitoris, inner-and-outer lips of the vagina, and the sewing or stapling together of the two sides of the vulva leaving only a small hole to pass urine and menstruate. Typically FGM is performed with a razor blade on girls between the ages of four and 12, traditionally without anaesthetic. The equivalent for a man would be like removing his testes and penis. 

There are a number of reasons why this act is performed on young girls. They range from wanting control over women's sexuality to supposed hygiene purposes to it being linked to religious and cultural identity yet the fact still remains that there are NO medical benefits to this procedure, what so ever, and the act is a severely dangerous risk on the life of the female in question. Not to mention that it's just, simply, HORRID.

Recently it's become a socially fashionable thing to discuss the horrors of FGM. I, even, recall seeing an episode of Casualty depict how destructive it can be. Yet it is always portrayed as something committed by foreign people from a barbaric and foreign land performed on foreign girls who don't look like the majority of the western world and so, well, it seems distant and problem happening over there with those kinds of people.

That was the the point of this event; to bring it home, to our doorstep, that These Are Our Friends. Brutality on one individual is brutality on us ALL.



'These are our Friends' highlights the fact that FGM is an issue in the UK and is not a problem that occurs in 'another faraway country'; that FGM is a problem for everyone, it is a problem that is happening in OUR communities.

FORWARD (Foundation for Women's Health, Research and Development) is a leading African diaspora women's campaign and support charity. The book (and film) launch were hosted by them and in the program, their statement of intent is:

"Our vision is a future in which women and girls live in dignity and are healthy, have choices and equal opportunities"

Young People Speak Out (YPSO) is FORWARD's youth programme which provides skills, training and support for young people (16-25) and works with them to create projects as a way to raise awareness about FGM in the UK.

The reason for the Poetry Book was to "...capture the nuances and complexities of the practice of FGM and the varying emotions and feeling it evokes."

And the short film "...uses a creative interpretation of poems written by the Youth Advocates involved in the project, to put their message on FGM centre stage."

These Are Our Friends is a creative project that uses spoken word and poetry as a tool for young people to widen their knowledge on FGM, explore girls' and women's experiences of FGM and amplify their voices as Youth Advocates.

If you wish to purchase the book or poem inspired art work feel free to go to their website: FORWARD: Safe Guarding Rights & Dignity: www.forwarduk.org.uk

And for more info on the youth programme: Youth People Speak Out!: youth@forwarduk.org.uk

I'm really grateful to have been invited to such an event. It reminds me how fortunate I am to have been brought up in a family which cherished, nurtured and fervently encouraged female development. I am also reminded that with such an opportunity given to me, I should also look to give back and championing the plight against FGM is certainly one way to do just that.