UN leader praises 'courageous' campaign after meeting 17-year-old activist Fahma Mohamed
theguardian.com, Alexandra Topping, Thursday 6 March 2014
|Ban Ki-moon and Fahma Mohamed. Photograph: Irene Baqué for Guardian|
The UN secretary general has promised to use the influence and reach of the United Nations to move a successful Guardian-backed campaign to tackle female genital mutilation in the UK on to the global stage.
At a meeting with the 17-year-old student Fahma Mohamed, the face of a campaign which persuaded the education secretary, Michael Gove, to write to all schools about FGM, he praised the teenager and the Guardian for a "creative and courageous" campaign.
"I will spare nothing, I will mobilise all UN tools and agencies to help promote this campaign," he said. "This is part of making women's voices heard and giving them the right to protect themselves." He added: "As secretary general of the UN, ending violence against women and girls has been one of my top priorities and I will add my voice and my strength to your very noble campaign. The Guardian's prestigious name can make a difference – it is well-known and well-respected. It was a very creative idea for the Guardian to work together with Change.org and Fahma. For me this is the way journalism can make a difference. Whatever the UN can do to help the campaign we will spare no efforts."
Asked by Ban, who will refer to the campaign in a speech on Friday, if she had a message for the UN's member states and world leaders, Fahma replied: "We are trying to get people to see that education is key and through it we can stop the cycle of abuse. It means so much to us to have your support."
Plans are being developed to adapt the Guardian's successful campaign model – which harnessed the power of traditional and cutting-edge media and activism – in other countries, with local media partners. "Ban Ki-moon's wholehearted support for the Fahma-Guardian campaign is wonderful. But it is his promise to put the resources of the United Nations behind it that is remarkable,' said Paul Johnson, deputy editor of the Guardian, who met the UN secretary general on Thursday night in London with Maggie O'Kane, the campaign co-ordinator.
"Working with the activist groups to get the government to put the issue of FGM into schools – with the help of a petition signed by nearly 250,000 people – was a real achievement. We now though have the opportunity, working with the UN and our worldwide media partners and other activist groups, to take the Fahma-inspired initiative to a new, international level."
Vannina Maestracci, spokesperson for the secretary general, told the Guardian that one of the first steps would be to identify the key media partners in Africa to develop an African model of the campaign.
Fahma launched the campaign in the UK on 6 February, the UN's day to mark zero tolerance of FGM. It quickly became one of the fastest-growing petitions ever to be hosted on Change.org in the UK, at one point attracting two signatures every second. Ban was an early supporter of the "deeply inspirational" campaign, which also attracted the support of the Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, who called Fahma her "sister" in a fight for girls' rights.
After more than 230,000 people had signed the campaign, the education secretary agreed to meet Fahma and other members of the anti-FGM charity Integrate Bristol, and pledged to write to all headteachers drawing their attention to safeguarding guidelines and providing specific information about FGM. He then visited her school, the City Academy Bristol, to learn more about how FGM could be taught in schools in an age-appropriate way.
The Scottish government has also agreed to write to all schools asking them to train teachers and parents about the risks and warning signs of FGM.
There are signs that the campaign is already having an impact on a global scale. In the United States Jaha Durkay, a 24-year-old victim of FGM, has started her own campaign on Change.org after being inspired by Fahma.
|Malala Yousafzai with the anti-FGM campaigner Muna Hasan.|
Photograph: David Levene