Gender Based Violence

Efua Dorkenoo: The Woman Who Never Stopped

Efua Dorkenoo at TEDxUCLWomen, 6th December 2013. Photo: Upi Sandhu
Efua Dorkenoo at TEDxUCLWomen, 6th December 2013. Photo: Upi Sandhu

I remember the first time I heard about the legendary Efua Dorkenoo. It was 2007 and I was 9 years old, sitting in my back garden in Lagos, Nigeria, clutching my copy of her book “Cutting the Rose: Female Genital Mutilation, The Practice and its Prevention”. I was completely inspired by this brave woman who had chosen to write so poignantly about the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). At 9, I ran into the house and went into my bedroom, scrambling around for my black notebook. In my rather poor handwriting, I wrote one word ‘Mama’ and added her to the list of women who inspired me. And for years to come, I would continue to admire and be inspired by this woman who was incredibly beautiful – inside and out.

Efua Dorkenoo, OBE, known affectionately to many, as ‘Mama Efua’ was a shining light in the movement to end FGM, dedicating her life to the eradication of the practice. Often referred to as the mother of the end FGM campaign, she fought for decades and battled to ensure that FGM stopped being a minority issue that was ignored to an issue was recognized as a priority by governments and policy makers around the world. She co-founded the organization FORWARD (The Foundation for Women’s Health, Research and Development) in 1983, which became a leading organization in the fight against FGM. She ensured that FGM was put on the agenda for ministries of health while working at the World Health Organization (WHO) from 1995 to 2001 and she went on to become the Advocacy Director and subsequently Senior Advisor on FGM at Equality Now. She was awarded an OBE in recognition of her campaigning work against FGM.

Efua Dorkenoo’s tireless campaigning and work culminated in the launch of The Girl Generation on October 10. The Girl Generation, an African-led movement to end FGM in a generation was the lifelong dream and brain-child of Mama Efua. At the event, we celebrated the progress made towards ending FGM in a generation. And I know that we could never have reached that point without Mama Efua. Mama Efua was a woman who refused to be silent. She saw the devastating effects of FGM, she stood up and raised her voice to stop the suffering of her sisters worldwide and never gave up, no matter what came her way. She was a rare gem, a rare beauty. She did exactly what every human being should do – she stood up for what she believed in. FGM may not have ended in her generation, but Mama Efua has paved a path of gold, she has prepared the way and FGM will end in a generation, thanks to her.

Efua Dorkenoo was a giant. She was a visionary who strived to see the end of FGM. We stood on her shoulders and we will continue to stand on her shoulders to further her legacy. We will stand on her shoulders because when we do this, we will borrow her strength. It is her strength that will allow us to see the end to this practice. We owe it to her to end FGM in our generation.

I will remain eternally grateful to Mama Efua. Generations will remain eternally grateful to Mama Efua. It was her courage, her humility, her fearlessness and her passion that enables me to say that I am The Girl Generation, the generation of fearless girls, the generation of hope and change, the generation where FGM ends.

Mama Efua, you have changed the lives of millions of women and girls worldwide. You have showed us that it is possible to strive for equality and you have taught us the most important lesson: never, ever, give up.

Rest in perfect peace, Mama Efua. You will always be remembered.

It’s stopped raining now.

But the tap-tap sounds on my windowsill continue.

The raindrops continue to fill the puddles even though the rain has stopped.

It reminds of Mama Efua, the woman who never stopped.

And although she is no longer here to be our mother, our leader and our friend,

We will not stop.

Because she did not stop.

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Category: Gender Based Violence    Sheroes
Tagged with: Efua Dorkenoo    Equality Now    Female genital mutilation    FGC    FGM    FORWARD    FORWARD UK    The Girl Generation    WHO

June Eric-Udorie

June Eric-Udorie is an anti-FGM campaigner and activist working with Plan UK and Integrate Bristol. She has written articles for newspapers and magazines in the UK on, but not exclusively on, feminism and women's rights. She tweets at @juneericudorie

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