Guest Post: Gift’s fight to #EndFGM: “We have to enforce the law and stop the cycle of pain!”
Gift Augustine, a trained nurse and midwife, is a remarkable woman. She has made it her mission to fight gender-based violence in her homeland of Nigeria. Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is one of the main foci of her relentless campaign. While working at a hospital in Nasarawa, Gift came across many women who experienced severe complications during labour and birth or suffered from Vesicovaginal Fistula. She soon realised that these complications were a result of Female Genital Mutilation, a practise based on cultural and traditional believes that leaves girls and women in pain, traumatised and unable to develop naturally. It was during that time that Gift decided to quit her secure job and to start campaigning. She founded the non-profit organisation Cesved (Centre for Social Value and Early Childhood) and, with the support of her husband Abu and the Our Heroes program by Projects For All, she has since visited countless schools, churches and communities to raise awareness of the physical and mental impact that Female Genital Mutilation has on girls and women, and to eradicate the practice for good.
Gift’s approach is unique: she speaks to the women, girls, influencers and those carrying out Female Genital Mutilation (“the cutters”) one-on-one, face-to-face. “It is crucial to gain the trust of the girls and women in order to open up to me,” says Gift. “Cut women see themselves as victims so they want to shy away from a discussion. It needs a lot of talking to convince them that being cut doesn’t make them less of a woman. Being uncut myself, however, is a big challenge when speaking to the elders and the women in the community, as they perceive me as unfit and unclean. I am dealing with very sensitive issues which are deeply rooted in the culture and traditions of my country. We have made great progress with our campaign so far, but breaking taboos and creating long-term change is a long and incremental process, and we can’t expect it overnight."
As a clear sign of recognition of her work, Gift has recently been invited to the Guardian Media Academy, part of the media group’s global campaign to end Female Genital Mutilation. Over the course of five days, journalists, activists, members of UNFPA and representatives from Christian and Islamic faith groups came together in Ibadan, Nigeria, to join forces. They shared their experiences and discussed strategies of how to raise awareness and amplify their individual campaigns. “The Media Academy showed us how important communications and the media are for campaigning,” explains Gift. “Especially radio can be a cost-effective way of getting our messages across to a wider audience."
Nigeria passed a federal law to ban FGM in 2015, but Gift sharply faults the lack of conviction to enforce it across the country. ”Female Genital Mutilation is barbaric and a violation of human rights,” she exclaims. “Even though the practise is illegal, there are still too many girls suffering. It shows that the current law is simply not effective.” During the Guardian Media Academy, Kathrine Sladden of Change.org worked with Gift to set up a petition to enforce the law in Cross River State, Nigeria. The petition has now over 100 supporters – a small success but far more signatures are needed (and urgently!) to make a real impact.
There is a long way to go for Gift and her fellow campaigners. They have the experience, knowledge and tools to make #EndFGM a reality one day, and the backing from the public and the global media is immense. But the biggest challenges remain the lack of support from national government bodies and funding. “I have notable expenses for training volunteers, hiring a car to visit remote villages, and for paying teaching aids and office staff,” says Gift. “These are crucial factors if I want to be effective in my daily work. I am so grateful for the support I already receive, but I know that with more funding I could do so much more. My dream and hope for the next five years is to make Female Genital Mutilation in Cross River State an evil of the past – and I will not stop until I have reached this goal."