Jaha Dukureh is the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador for Africa. A renowned activist, she herself is a survivor of female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage. On November 19 to 27, 2022, Jaha undertook a mission to Liberia to support the Liberian Government in their efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls, including harmful practices such as FGM and child marriage.
“I went through FGM when I was one week old. I have been a child bride twice in my life. The first time when I was married off, I was 15 years old. Girls like me don’t usually make it this far.
One of the greatest honors of my life has been the appointment as UN Women Goodwill Ambassador for Africa. I care about this work. It’s my life and passion. It’s about my daughter’s future and the future of girls in our continent.
In my country alone [The Gambia], more than 77 per cent of women have already been subjected to FGM. Globally, it is estimated that more than 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation.
Every year, more than 600 million girls around the world are forced to get married against their will. When you do this, you are giving another person the right to rape them over and over again.
Hundreds of millions of girls have gone through some of the things that I have been through but they never get the opportunity or the platform to stand in front of people and share their story and get seen and get heard. It’s not an easy thing to come and share my story over and over again but I feel like someone has to do it. We cannot import solutions and expect change. Change has to be led by people with the lived experience that can stand up and say, we are against this for this reason because we know what it feels like and we have been through it.
This is why when it gets tough and I want to give up, I really can’t do it because I know that if I give up it will be harder for the next girl to stand up.
As long as I am alive, I will wake up every single day and scream to the world that FGM is wrong, and scream to the world that child marriage is not different from rape. We all have a moral obligation to ensure that violence against women ends. We can do this through advocacy. We can do this through individual work. We cannot stay silent.
We need to ensure that we are supporting communities to lead that change themselves. Because if we do anything other than get communities to lead the change themselves, 20 years from now, 30 years from now, we will be back in the same communities talking about ending FGM, ending violence against women and girls and all these things we have been talking about for decades.
Right now, what is crucial is handing power back into the hands of communities and looking at different, better ways to build prosperity. A lot of times we consider FGM and issues like that as fixed traditional practices. The only way we can change that, is if we work hand in hand with traditional leaders who understand our traditions and understand that tradition is not static. Cultures change. We have a lot of traditions, but once we realize as a community, that not all these traditions are good for us, we leave them behind. Now it’s time to ensure that, no girl, not only in Africa, but around the world, continues to suffer as a result of FGM.
Violence against women and girls continues to happen in this continent because women are not economically empowered. Until women are earning their own money, we will not end violence against women.
My commitment to the people and Government of Liberia is that I will make myself available and I will work with you to ensure that the lessons that we have learnt from other countries can be considered in relation to Liberia so that we don’t lose anything. It’s a win-win for everyone. We stay strong. We uplift women out of poverty."