Let me start by first saying that I was honored to have been granted the opportunity to attend the #YouthForChange and Girl Summit 2014 events, which took place in London from the 19th– 22nd of July 2014. I owe that to the Program Manager of the Global Give Back Circle, Lizzie, who nominated me for my Give Back Commitment and efforts surrounding FGM. I am so thankful that she, and the UK government, selected me to attend. Both were heartfelt events that made me recognise youth do indeed have the power to change the world.
I landed in London on the 18th of July, and from there my journey through a multitude of events began. First up, #YouthforChange, an incredible affair organised by the #YouthForChange Panel, a diverse group of young individuals from the UK, Pakistan, Malawi, Cameroon and India, representing a variety of organizations, from UNICEF to FORWAD to Plan. This group is passionate about inspiring action surrounding girls’ rights and ending the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) and child, early and forced marriage (CEFM). Thanks to them, I took part in the #YouthforChange event, where I met and interacted with young people from around the world. Working together to find solutions to put an end to FGM and (CEFM), we attended breakout sessions and honed in on areas we felt would create real solutions to address, and ultimately end, these practices.
I personally attended a spotlight session on the role of health and education professionals in ending FGM, and another session on the role of faith communities and leaders in addressing FGM and CEFM. Coming from a Somali community well known for being an active participant in these practices, and also being Muslim, I chose these sessions, as I considered them key solutions in ending these practices. For myself, I wanted to draw a line between a religious practice and a cultural practice, as this is what happens to be the main problem in my community, where FGM and CEFM are entangled with religion.
I felt a sense of relief, as I recognised that FGM has no basis whatsoever in any religious belief.
As the sessions concluded, we put what we discussed in to action and came up with solutions in a formal ‘Youth Statement of Action’ to be presented at the first ever Girl Summit 2014.
On the 22nd of July, the UK government and UNICEF kicked off the Summit to spotlight girls’ rights. I can say that it was the most interesting, encouraging and inspiring event I have ever attended. Motivational speakers, government representatives, faith leaders, activists and champions from around the world committed to the rights and empowerment of women and girls.
The UK Prime Minister; David Cameron, Justine Greening; Secretary of State for International Development, Theresa May; Home Secretary of UK Government, Malala Yousafzai; Activist, and many other government representatives spoke about their state and personal commitments to women and girls. Their speaking was brilliant and truly showed all coming together in a collective effort to end FGM and CEFM.
We youths voiced our solutions and commitments to advance the potential and rights of women and girls too. Afterwards, we read our ‘Youth Statement of Action’ aloud to all and gave them each a copy of the statement.
I felt proud that we were given a chance to voice our concerns and how we will work to overcome them.
In the UK, it is estimated that over 20,000 girls are at the risk of FGM each year and thousands are vulnerable to forced marriage. If we fail to take action internationally, it is estimated that within ten years, 30 million girls and women will undergo FGM in 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East, where the practice is most concentrated. Already, as many as 70 million young women alive today have been married as children.
Based on these statistics, it is clear these practices are a threat to the world, now, and in the future. It is not a problem that exists just in Africa, but a global issue, and I am glad the government and UNICEF are committed to seeing a world where girls and women can fulfill their potential free from discrimination and violence.
A big thank you to the #YouthforChange and Girl Summit 2014 for inviting me to attend such an incredible event. My heartfelt gratitude goes to Lizzie, who nominated me, and Catherine Kiganjo for helping me with all the travel arrangements, my family and friends who supported me all through, and finally my ‘Mum,’ Linda Lockhart, who brought the Global Give Back Circle to being and made my academic dreams come true by giving me a scholarship.
I have a personal commitment to end these two harmful practices in my Somali community, where I now feel I will be able to speak up strongly and proudly to bring them to an end. Join me in spreading the word #YouthforChange.
— Hibo Yussuf Hussein, Proud Ambassador of the Global Give Back Circle