May 11, 2017, 11:26 AM
“I was not expecting it, being a girl from one of the smallest countries in Africa; never did I think I will make a list like this,” said Jaha Dukureh.
Dukureh, the lead campaigner in the Guardian’s global media campaign to end Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), was honoured, in particular, for her work in the US and The Gambia, but is now campaigning to end the practice worldwide in a generation, using her experiences as a survivor to build public support.
“It feels amazing for the cause that’s so dear to me, for my country, for the young people that stand with me,” she said.
She first came to prominence with the success of her change petition which received more than 220,000 signatures, asking the Obama administration to conduct a new prevalence study into the current scope of FGM in the United States.
Now based in Atlanta, USA, Dukureh had become the leading campaigner against FGM in The Gambia.
She is of a new generation of young women in the country who are working through the media to make sure that the mutilation they have suffered is not repeated on their daughters and other girls.
Described by her colleagues, Jaha Dukureh’s inclusion in the Time 100 list is wonderful news as she had helped to put Female Genital Mutilation right at the heart of the global human rights agenda.
The Gambian activist is a leader in the fight to end FGM, a practice that affects more than 200 million girls worldwide, after her change petition got more than 220,000 signers, the Obama administration announced it would commission a report to study the problem.
The Guardian had been working with activists like Dukureh in the UK, US, Kenya, The Gambia and Nigeria.
The media campaign, supported by the Human Dignity Foundation, began work in June in Sierra Leone, where 88 per cent of girls were subjected to FGM.
Somalia, which has the highest prevalence of FGM in the world, had indicated it would like to end the practice, despite significant resistance in the country.
Currently, 98 per cent of girls aged between 4 and 11 are subjected to FGM in Somalia.
In speaking out against FGM, Jaha Dukureh had refused to let horror be silenced and when she was an infant, her external sexual organs were amputated in her native Gambia.
Now living in Atlanta, USA, she founded Safe Hands for Girls to fight the practice both internationally and in the U.S., where 500,000 women have been or are at risk of being victimised.
Dukureh’s efforts helped make it a crime to transport American girls abroad for FGM.
Although she had faced anger and threats from her community, the thought of her three children keeps her going.
“I don’t want them to have to face the challenges I did,” she says, “whether it’s early marriage or FGM. I don’t want them to have to live in fear. I don’t want any girl to ever feel that way.”EndFragment