Led by 14-year-old Mona*, girls and boys are taking a stand against the devastating practice of female genital mutilation (FGM/C).
Mona is cheerful and optimistic but she has already experienced things that no-one should endure: the death of both her parents, FGM/C and sexual abuse by her guardian.
Still, she is able to smile as she tells her heartbreaking story.
“I’ve always had so many questions in my head, about why young girls have to marry older men, why do we have to go through genital mutilation, why do women get hit? My parents were not there to answer, so life forced me to undergo a brutal lesson. One that still hurts,” she says.
Mona was born in rural Somalia. Losing her parents at a young age, she was sent to live with a guardian who thought she was old enough to be married. According to Mona, in Somalia there is a common belief that girls should marry early because they need a man to protect them.
Mona’s guardian began abusing her. “I was all alone with a man who started to sexually abuse me and there was no one to help me. I was just a little girl.”
Eventually, she escaped her abuser.
“My situation opened my eyes. All my life I was surrounded by people who didn’t expect much from me. But I knew better, I knew what was happening around me was wrong.
“So I starting asking myself, what can I do now? I was just a student. But I thought, ‘What if excel in my studies and find ways to share my thoughts with my fellow students?’”
Mona stayed strong and continued achieving astonishing results in her studies. Top of her class, she leads the school gender club and participates in law and language therapy clubs too.
Mona uses literature to deliver important messages regarding gender equality and children’s rights. After she was appointed its chairperson, the school gender club swelled to 48 student members. She actively encourages girls to report abuse and several cases have been handled under her leadership.
“I take every opportunity to raise awareness,” says Mona. “Girls in Somalia are like everyone else. They want to learn, have fun with their friends, and be happy.”
Changing deep-seated cultural traditions is not easy but boys have started to join the gender club, which makes Mona hopeful for the future.
There is always an element of concern about the right way to approach difficult cultural topics and the best way to communicate with her target audience.
“There is a way to approach people, you have to use their language. We need to show the men and boys the pain we are going through and educate our sisters and mothers. There is hope for change and it starts with us.”
Mona wishes to see a better future for women and children without any form of abuse and neglect. She also knows that she cannot do it alone. She is calling on more people to join her to combat discrimination against women and girls.
Throughout the 16 Days campaign we will be highlighting inequalities faced by a significant proportion of the female population, and one of those key issues is around the impact that FGM/C has on at least 200 million women worldwide.
The United Nations has calculated that 4.1 million girls worldwide will be at risk of being circumcised in 2020. That is more than 11,000 girls a day. FGM/C is a practice that is still performed daily on young girls in many countries in East and West Africa, the Middle East and in some Asian countries. The reasons for carrying out the practice vary by region, cultural traditions, religion and societal pressures.
Because FGM/C has lifelong consequences for girls and their rights to make decisions about their sexual and reproductive health, Islamic Relief is working to eradicate FGM/C and help girls live a fulfilling life. Through supporting girls and women in various ways such as providing psychosocial support, working with faith leaders, and educating local communities and through our extensive campaigning on gender justice we are working to end the harmful practice of FGM/C.
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