2019 International Women’s Rights Award with Nimco Ali

Nimco Ali, British-Somali feminist and social rights activist who co-founded and directs Daughters of Eve, a survivor-led organization focused on ending female genital mutilation (FGM), addresses the 11th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy after receiving the Summit’s International Women’s Rights Award – see quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks.

On the practice of FGM:

“There is no honor in the mutilation of girls. There is nothing cultural about the denial of basic human rights of children.”

“Between now and 2030, there are 70 million girls who are at risk of FGM. That is the population of the UK right now. That’s 70 million girls that could be the future of Africa, that could be Africa’s saving grace.”

“FGM is not a health issue, FGM is a human rights issue.”

On her own experience with FGM:

“FGM was meant to break me. I was meant to be scared after I was cut. I was meant to behave, and I was meant to stay in my corner, but we all know that well behaved women seldom make history.”

Full Remarks

Thank you, I am incredibly honored to be receiving this award and ultimately I want to say this is on behalf of the African women who are risking their lives on a day to day basis to end FGM.

It is because of incredible African women who came before me that I am able to stand with you here. My name is Nimco Ali I am one of the 200 million women across the world living with consequences FGM. The act of FGM is as brutal as it is organised. Through my own experience I knew that FGM was organized and knew that a lot of people benefited from it. For thousand years girls and women from Africa, the Middle East and parts of India have been silently subjected to violence in the silent gender genocide. In the name of honor and culture this was dismissed. There is no honor in the mutilation of girls. There is nothing cultural about the denial of basic human rights of children.

FGM was meant to break me. I was meant to be scared after I was cut. I was meant to behave, and I was meant to stay in my corner, but we all know that well behaved women seldom make history. Standing here to accept an award and talking about the human rights of girls is historic. The international community for too long has seen issues like FGM and child marriage as something that is due to ignorance and not slow gender genocide. For the 200 million I have spoken about living with FGM, many more were lost and even more at risk as we speak.

Between now and 2030, there are 70 million girls who are at risk of FGM. That is the population of the UK right now. 70 million! That’s 70 million girls that could be the future of Africa, that could be Africa’s saving grace.

I believe that the mere fact I am standing here today shows that we can save all girls at risk of FGM. I believe that if we today stand together for girls and seek protection for their human rights, we can achieve a world free of FGM. To achieve this I do not need you to start a campaign, but I need you to stand with African women on the front line. Women like Jaha in The Gambia who was subjected to FGM when she was just one week old, then sold into sexual slavery also known as child marriage, and Josephine in Kenya. These are the ones working to end FGM, these women are doing incredible work on zero funding.

Progress is possible but it is not given. In my family we have ended FGM because we spoke up and acted, that can also happen in Africa and beyond if we allow those who truly want to speak up to make the change.

I thank you again for this award, it means the world, but rethinking how we fund those fighting a world free of FGM would mean more to me. Only a small percentage of development funding goes to gender issues and only 2% of any funding out there gets to women on the front line. This is criminal and this has to change, but that change will only come when and if we trust women to lead. This is why I have set up The Five Foundation to help ensure that funding gets to the grassroots level and that we can end FGM in this generation.

I think the gross underfunding is due to gender.

The 70 million girls that are living with the consequences of FGM have an average age of five when they will be cut.

People talk about things like poverty. Poverty doesn’t just happen just like how FGM doesn’t just happen. Poverty is an organized injustice. If you cut 70 million girls, that means there are 70 million active girls, leaders, less people within your communities who can really change things. There are 70 million less leaders within your communities, there are 70 million people less.

I also know that there are women who deserve this prize more than I do, let me just tell you one story from 45 years ago from a woman named Edna. She was a Somali activist in the n late 70s, early 80s. She stood outside the United Nations in New York to lobby that FGM should be seen as a health violation. She lobbied the men inside to tell them that FGM was a human rights violation.

FGM is not a health issue, FGM is a human rights issue. And I hope that accepting this award we can take that forward and I want to see governments like my government, I want senior politicians and people in the West to stand beside my government in the UK. We have committed 50 million, 50 million is not going to go far. We need 100 million, we need more and we need you all to say that if we put money in the hands of African women, we can really make change. On that note I just want to thank you all again and thank you for the scarf I am incredibly honored.

12th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, UN Opening, March 25, 2019

Speakers and Participants

Nimco Ali

Award-winning women’s rights activist and campaigner against FGM

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