When I think about the future I want to create it is a future where all girls dream big and set their ambitions for life high. Where girls are not held back by child marriage or abuses like female genital mutilation but instead given an education and encouraged to reach for the stars.
This week we mark International Zero Tolerance Day for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) – a procedure where the female genitals are deliberately cut, injured or changed, without medical reason. It’s a day when we are reminded that millions of girls are at risk of this harmful practice. But this year I feel more hopeful than ever before. I see a generation of young women rising around the world who are on a course to create incredible change.
A few years ago I was working in Atlanta and looking after my young family, when I saw a group of British school girls and activists, like Nimco Ali, making headlines as they campaigned and succeeded in persuading the Education Secretary to write to schools about FGM. I was a baby when I was cut and seeing women like me speaking out inspired me to think that I could do the same. So I started a petition to the White House for more action to be taken.
I discovered that when I told my story people listened. So I kept going. Soon the White House replied to my petition and agreed to take action. Then I returned to my home country The Gambia. It took many courageous conversations with my family, with my community elders and soon with my President. But we built support from across the community and in 2015 the President announced FGM would be banned in The Gambia.
It was a remarkable day. And it has fuelled me to do even more. There are many women across Africa, just like me, who are working tirelessly in their communities to create change. Thanks to the media telling our stories and to technology, we are finding each other and connecting together.
We call ourselves the Big Sisters. From Kenya, to Somalia, Nigeria to Sierra Leone – we are sharing ideas, resources and supporting each other as we work to end FGM in our communities.
We have many obstacles in our way, not least because funding for women at the grassroots level is in short supply. But we remain undeterred. It is women who have lived these experiences and who come from these communities that can have the courageous conversations we need, to end these practises.
So this week as we mark zero tolerance day, stand with us. Be a sister with us and amplify our stories. Help us change the future for our younger sisters.
Jaha Dukureh is an end FGM activist. This week UN Women appointed Jaha as a Regional Goodwill Ambassador for Africa. Her organsation Safe Hands for Girls works with girls in the US and The Gambia to end FGM. Follow Jaha on Twitter.
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