By Jaha Dukureh

Although rewarding, my experience working to end Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has been the most challenging part of my life so far. I remember how excited I was when I first started this work, but dealing with the disappointment from family members who had yet to understand the importance of ending FGM, made it almost impossible to cope.  There were so moments of self-doubt, moments when even I didn’t fully understand what I was doing, but something told me to keep going, something kept telling me that I was doing the right thing.

When I started this campaign, I had no idea of the impact it would have or the support it would garner, and although I get a lot of credit for the work being done in the US and in The Gambia, this campaign is due to a collective team effort.  From the moment I started this work in the US, other amazing survivors stood up with me and worked actively to help me carry out the programs and make sure I did not feel alone.  

The work in The Gambia is even more of a testament to the collective effort of youth groups who are equally passionate about the cause. The organization I founded - Safe Hands for Girls - has amazing young volunteers who have dedicated their lives to this cause. Without them I wouldn’t be able to do any of what I do.

Even though our campaign against FGM has had a lot of success, we still face challenges. As a young, black, Muslim woman I often have to work ten times harder to show that I am deserving of support. I spend most of my time trying to prove to donors, partners and even people I work with, that I am enough just the way I am, that I am deserving of my accomplishments.

Girls like me rarely get the opportunity to sit at tables and discuss issues related to our struggles, we are used for photo ops and as numbers on research footnotes. Knowing my voice is being heard gives me the courage to stand in the open with no fear, regardless of how daunting it gets. I know that I am standing for millions more and I am a voice for many.

For me, giving up wouldn’t mean just giving up on my struggle, but it would signify silencing every voice being heard through me. My story is not different from the 200-million women that are living with FGM globally.  The only difference is that I have a platform that they don’t, due to the limited opportunities afforded to women like them, to women like me.

These women are more than capable of fighting their own battles, but not enough of us are capable of listening. A lot of times, girls like me don’t need sympathy, we are more than just survivors, we are not just stories either, instead, we are real people who have solutions to real problems.

Fighting against FGM has definitely been an uphill battle for me, but a worthy one none the less. What is necessary to win this fight is a holistic approach that includes survivors in the frontline, only then will we achieve the desired progress.