Visible Women

Anti-FGM campaigners Nimco Ali and Leila Hussein just got the huge recognition they deserve

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Hollie Richardson
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Nimco Ali FGM campaigner

FGM survivors and campaigners Nimco Ali and Leila Hussein just received OBEs – here’s why this is such fantastic news.

Activists Nimco Ali and Dr Leila Hussein have been recognised for their incredible campaigning to end female genital mutilation. Both women underwent FGM themselves when they were both just seven years old, and have since continued to speak out about the violent act against girls. 

Now, the Queen has awarded Ali and Hussein OBEs in her birthday honour’s list, with the pair dedicating their honours to fellow campaigners seeking to end the practice.

The two women set up non-profit organisation Daughters of Eve together over ten years ago, which works to protect girls and young women who are at risk of FGM. Among many other accolades, they were named two of Britain’s most influential women in the BBC Woman’s Hour power list 2014, after calling for the UK government to implement a strategy to eliminate the practice.

Nimco Ali and Leila Hussein’s courageous FGM campaigning just got the recognition it deserves
Nimco Ali and Leila Hussein’s courageous FGM campaigning just got the recognition it deserves

FGM has been illegal in Britain since 1985 but the law was strengthened in 2003 to prevent girls travelling to undergo it abroad. An estimated 60,000 girls are at risk of FGM in the UK, with the NHS reporting 1,015 new cases between April and June just last year. Although this figure has increased from 2017, The National FGM Centre suggests this is because of increased awareness and improvements in the way social workers identify cases. In 2018, the government pledged £50m to invest in grassroots programmes to stop FGM in Africa. But Ali and Hussein say that much remains to be done to change the attitudes and patriarchal culture which perpetuate FGM.

“In 2019 we are at the tipping point. I know by 2030 we can live in a world where FGM is not practised,” said Ali, a British Somali who grew up in Manchester. “I’m immensely privileged. “FGM was a ridiculous thing that happened to me”, but I also had access to education, I also had access to freedom that allows me today to sit here and say that I am a survivor of FGM; but also to say I am honoured to receive this on behalf of all of the African women whose shoulders I sit on to be here today.”

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“It’s not just the cutting” added Hussein. “There’s a party that is very much connected to this. It’s not just violence, it is violence that is paraded publicly. People bring gifts – gold watches, jewellery, chocolates and sweets. It’s important to understand that.”

So, what’s next for the pair’s vital campaigning?

Six clinics offering services for survivors of FGM are soon due to open in the UK. Two of these will include counselling offered by the Dahlia Project – a psychotherapy charity founded by Dr Hussein which remains the only one of its kind in Europe.

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Also, it was announced in February that as of next year all secondary school pupils in the UK will be taught about the dangers of FGM as part of the compulsory national curriculum on sex and relationships.

Both women have been subject to death threats in the past, with Hussein having to move home three times. Although there’s still a long way to go, this is a momentous moment for Ali and Hussein and proof of how vital the work they continue to do is for women around the world. 

Images: Getty

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Hollie Richardson

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