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Survivors of female genital mutilation say #MeToo

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Anti-FGM activist Leyla Hussein with protestors at a rally outside town hall in Maidenhead, UK, on August 30th, 2013. (Love Productions)

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The #MeToo campaign against sexual abuse should include the stories of survivors of female genital mutilation (FGM), activists said ahead of a global day on Tuesday to raise awareness about the internationally condemned ritual.

Leyla Hussein, one of the first FGM survivors to come forward in Britain, urged people to use the #MeToo hashtag when posting about the practice on social media on Feb 6, the annual International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM.

“It’s a shame the #MeToo campaign doesn’t include FGM,” said Hussein, founder of the London-based Dahlia Project, which provides counseling for women who have been cut.

“FGM is a form of sexual abuse, but yet again we’ve been left out,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

At least 200 million women and girls globally have undergone FGM, U.N. data shows. The ritual, involving the partial or total removal of the external genitalia, is practised in about 30 African countries and parts of Asia and the Middle East.

Campaigners say the tradition – often justified for cultural or religious reasons – is underpinned by the desire to control female sexuality. It can cause serious health problems.

Hibo Wardere, a British activist who was cut as a child in Somalia, said both the #MeToo campaign and the global drive to end FGM were about “women having ownership of their bodies”.

Countless women and girls have taken to social media in recent months using the #MeToo hashtag to talk about their experiences of sexual harassment, abuse and rape.

The campaign was sparked last year after a slew of sexual harassment and assault allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. The scandal has since engulfed many other celebrity figures across various industries.

”FGM is a form of sexual violence – of course it should be part of #MeToo,“ Wardere said. ”Being attacked because of our gender unites us.

“FGM is a way of controlling our sexuality, our bodies, our thoughts,” she added. “It’s a way to make you feel like nothing but a commodity that belongs to a man … That’s what we’re all fighting against.”

Some campaigners said conflating FGM with the sexual abuse highlighted by the #MeToo campaign could wrongly imply there was sexual gratification involved with the ritual.

They said FGM should be seen as child abuse, not sex abuse.

But Hussein said sexual assault was not about gratification.

“It’s about having power over someone,” she said. “When someone does FGM, it’s all about power.”

Arts & Culture

Somali-British poet Momtaza Mehri named young people’s laureate for London

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THE GUARDIAN — The 24-year-old Somali-British poet Momtaza Mehri, who has been chosen as the new young people’s laureate for London, is hoping to spend her year in the role convincing young people “to see poetry as part of their every day, rather than in some dusty tome, or academic niche interest”.

Mehri, who has a background in biochemical science and wrote the poetry chapbook sugah. lump. prayer, has been shortlisted for this year’s Brunel African poetry prize and won last year’s Out-Spoken Page poetry prize. As laureate, Mehri hopes to encourage young people to voice their concerns and experiences through poetry.

The poet, from Kilburn in north-west London, was selected for the role by a panel of arts organisations and poets, and is, according to Spread the Word’s chair of trustees Rishi Dastidar, “an inspired choice” and a “poet to watch”.

“For young people to have an artist who is an ambassador for them, who brings their concerns, struggles and joys to those in authority, and the wider world, is vital,” Dastidar said. “Her poetry is precise and powerful, and rich with images that are haunting. She is not afraid to tackle the biggest of subjects, which, combined with her talent, is going to give the role a renewed sense of purpose and visibility.”
Mehri said she was exposed to oral forms of poetry by her family when growing up, but only began writing for publication around four years ago. “Over time I honed, or found, my voice, and that allowed me to feel comfortable, finding the poetic voice I felt was most suited to me. Obviously at the beginning you’re very much inspired by your influences,” she said. “I think the poetry I write is interested in questions or ideas around disruption or movement, whether it’s movement of people or places, movement between different ideas, between how things change over different generations, and in themes of migration and urban spaces.”

During her time in the role, Mehri will be looking to amplify the voices of Londoners aged between 13 and 25, “to let them lead conversations, to be as inspired by them as hopefully they can be inspired by me”. She will work with writer-development agency Spread the Word on youth-focused residencies across London, head a tour to six outer London boroughs, and co-host a special project for young London poets called The Young People’s Poetry Lab.

According to research from the National Literacy Trust, 84% of teachers who participated in a poetry programme for disadvantaged children in London schools over a five-year period said their writing skills had improved.

Outgoing young people’s laureate for London, Caleb Femi, said that “poetry has the potential to play a vital part in self-expression and artistic enjoyment in the lives of young people”.

“We need a dedicated person who can assist in integrating the joys of poetry into the everydayness of young Londoners,” he added. “We are extremely lucky to have a talented and dedicated poet such as Momtaza Mehri appointed as the new young people’s laureate for London. Her tenure is sure to be an extraordinary one.”

Mehri said that she wanted to: “Reach everybody, to allow people to see poetry as part of everyday living in London, and all the different poetry traditions that people bring to London.”

“I am very much aware of the fact that I came out of a very different poetic tradition, and what that’s brought to my writing of the English language. So I want to be aware of the fact that people are carrying different poetic influences, whether they consider themselves poets or not,” she said.

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Food

Bristol’s Somali Kitchen: Empowering women through cooking

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Suad Yusuf set up the Somali Kitchen in Bristol to bring women together to share recipes, promote healthy eating and to support and empower one another.

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UK

London lawyer acquitted of forcing daughter to undergo female genital mutilation

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LONDON, (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A London solicitor accused of forcing his daughter to undergo female genital mutilation was acquitted on Thursday, increasing pressure on police and prosecutors who have yet to secure a conviction for FGM more than 30 years after it was outlawed.

The prosecution was only the second to be brought under FGM legislation introduced in 1985.

During a nine-day trial at London’s Central Criminal Court, the prosecution alleged that the defendant had twice arranged for someone to come to the family home to cut his daughter as a form of punishment when she was around nine years old.

But the defendant, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said in an emotional testimony that the allegations were fabrications arising from a very acrimonious divorce.

He said his wife had repeatedly threatened to destroy him and had turned their children against him.

“I didn’t cut my daughter. I would never hurt my daughter,” he told the jury. “I would give my life for my children.”

A medical expert confirmed the girl’s genitalia had been cut but said the scars were unusual and could not say when the injuries occurred.

The 50-year-old lawyer, who comes from West Africa, said FGM was not practiced in his community and he had no idea who had cut his daughter. He was also cleared of three counts of child cruelty.

Police and prosecutors have faced mounting pressure in recent years to secure a conviction for FGM as part of broader efforts to eradicate the practice, which usually involves the partial or total removal of external genitalia.

An estimated 137,000 women and girls in England and Wales have undergone FGM, which affects immigrant communities from various countries including Somalia, Sierra Leone, Eritrea, Sudan, Nigeria and Egypt.

Politicians and campaigners, who believe thousands of girls in Britain are at risk of FGM, have said a successful prosecution would act as a deterrent.

Prosecutors were criticised over the first FGM trial in 2015 when a doctor was accused of performing FGM while treating a woman who had given birth. He was acquitted.

A leading obstetrician branded the trial a “ludicrous” travesty of justice which would leave doctors on labour wards terrified of touching women who had been subjected to FGM.

A second trial involving FGM – but brought under child cruelty laws – collapsed last month. (Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)

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