“Can you hear that sound?
Rising from the silence.
Take a look around!
See the people of the future! Yeah!”
The above words were written by extraordinary, dedicated and passionate young people of Integrate Bristol. Integrate Bristol is a youth led charity that works towards equality and integration. For seven years, Integrate Bristol has been at the forefront of the movement to end Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and all forms of gender based violence. FGM is the deliberate mutilation of the genitalia of women and girls. It is practiced in 28 countries in Africa and in some parts of Asia and the Middle East. Due to immigration, the practice is now prevalent in countries like Australia, the US and the UK. It is believed that over 135 million women and girls have been affected and in the next decade, 30 million girls are at risk on the African continent alone.
Seven years ago, no one in the United Kingdom was discussing the issue of FGM. This changed when in 2007, Lisa Zimmerman, teacher and Project Manager of Integrate Bristol, took a class of 12 girls on a horse-riding trip. Through her interaction with them she discovered that 11 out of the 12 girls had been subject to the practice. She took the first step, an incredibly brave step, to start the discussion on FGM. The group began in 2007 with four scared girls – and now the movement has grown to over 100 young people.
I’m part of this amazing group of young people. We are fearless. We are stronger. We refuse to be silent.
FGM is child abuse – and no matter what excuses you come up with, you cannot defend child abuse. The young people of Integrate Bristol have faced several hurdles, including opposition from communities, politicians and even teachers at school. This group of dedicated youth continue to raise their voices, to shout and say that FGM does not happen because of culture, or religion or anything else – it happens because you are born a girl into a patriarchal society.
Over the past several years, Integrate Bristol directed and produced a film on FGM called Silent Scream which received over 200,000 views. The organization also held a national conference on FGM and produced a play, My Normal Life to raise awareness about the issue. This year, Fahma Mohamed was the face of a joint campaign with Integrate Bristol and The Guardian asking Education Secretary, Michael Gove to write to all UK schools about FGM. The petition received 250,000 signatures, and Michael Gove had no other option but to write to every single Head Teacher in the UK. Fahma won the Women of the Year award for her fight to end FGM. Muna Hassan, also of Integrate Bristol was recently on BBC Radio 1’s Teen Teens who changed the world and at the Girl Summit 2014, where the #UseYourHead campaign was highlighted throughout the day. #UseYourHead is a social media campaign to end female genital mutilation and promote gender equality.
We have realized that gender based violence affects each and everyone one of us – it’s everybody’s business. And we know that now is the time to break the cycle and put an end gender based violence. Every 10 seconds, one girl will be forced to go through FGM. One in five girls is at risk of being sexually assaulted or raped in her lifetime. Currently, 66 million girls are out of school. Domestic violence, rape and sex trafficking remain rampant issues. Now is the time that we begin to see girls as equals in our society, not as second class citizens. It is time that we stop treating girls like runners up in the human race. It is time we begin to seriously unlock systems of patriarchy.
It is time that we begin to use our heads to end all forms of gender based violence.
I continue to use my head to end gender based violence, to end misogyny and to end patriarchy. Please support #UseYourHead and join the campaign to end gender based violence. Now is the time to begin to break cycles – remember, with every girl you save when you stand up against a practice like FGM, you break the cycle and save future generations.