Female Genital Mutilation, Gender-based Violence
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Zero Tolerance: An Interview with Leyla Hussein

Leyla Hussein, an anti-FGM campaigner based in the UK, speaks with a real sense of what is needed to eradicate female genital mutilation (FGM) in the UK. A survivor of the practice, Hussein has spent the last twelve years fighting against the practice.

FGM is a practice that has existed for thousands of years and involves the partial or total removal of the external genitalia of women and girls. Many claim it is ‘cultural’ but it is a deep rooted form of violence. Hussein says,

The reason why myself and 140 million women were forced to go through FGM is because we are female. That’s what we’re guilty of. That’s what I’m guilty of. We live in a society scared of vaginas. I fell in love with the attitude towards FGM in Kenya, they call it violence and a vagina, not a cherry, as we do in the UK. They say it as it is. We need to say it as it is.

Over the past several years, the movement to end FGM in the UK has changed dramatically. It has progressed from an issue shrouded in secrecy to being front page news. Passion resonates in Leyla’s voice as she describes the movement.

The big change happened as a result of the media – and what the media did was to give survivors a voice. The youth movement has also been so vital to this – and it was through them that things really kicked off. When Muna Hassan from Integrate Bristol said ‘Dave, grow a pair’ or Newsnight and then young bloggers came out saying ‘I’m a feminist, don’t touch my vagina’ – us old school campaigners were really forced to sit up. It’s amazing seeing the next generation saying ‘no bullshit on our side’.

The idea that FGM can end in a generation is a growing reality. The next generation must be empowered and educated about the harmful effects.

Hussein’s twelve year old daughter is the first girl in her family to be free from FGM, and once that cycle is broken, it is broken forever. Hussein candidly states,

The next thing the UK government needs is to ensure we have compulsory training and reporting for all frontline professionals because that will protect girls. What I want is prevention. If a girl goes through FGM, even if you prosecute everybody in her family, at the end of the day she’s left with a scar. It’s a violation that no girl should have to go through and we need to prevent it with education. In my case, it was one health professional that had the training and the information and passed it onto me. Without that health professional, I don’t know whether my daughter would have been saved from FGM. But she could only do that because she had been given the tools. We need to give everyone the tools.

During the course of our conversation, Leyla shared the importance of ending FGM in Africa. She shared how young women in Kenya are pushing the movement forward with little resources but so much passion and zeal. While there have been significant strides taken in the UK, the fight is far from over.

What does the Zero Tolerance mean for activist Leyla Hussein?

For me Zero Tolerance Day to FGM is about celebrating those we saved from FGM, including my daughter, and remembering those who died. It’s a way of me saying to them “I will get you justice, I haven’t forgotten about you. It shouldn’t just be about one day – we should stand up to protect girls from violence every day. -Leyla Hussein

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