Pakistani schoolgirl shot by Taliban praises campaign calling for better education on female genital mutilation in UK schools
Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl who has spearheaded the campaign for universal education for children, has backed a campaign led by the 17-year-old British student Fahma Mohamed to get education about female genital mutilation into all schools in the UK.
In an exclusive interview with the Guardian, Malala praised Fahma’s campaign, and joined her in calling for better education in schools about FGM. “I’ve watched every step of Fahma’s campaign and I think she is on the edge of something huge,” she said. “Over 140 million girls and women are mutilated – but like keeping girls out of school in Pakistan, we can come out together and be strong and change things for the next generation. I am her sister and I am at her side and I want her to be listened to I as I was.”
Fahma is to meet the education secretary, Michael Gove, on Tuesday in an attempt to convince him to play a role in ending the practice of FGM in the UK. Gove agreed to a meeting after a Guardian-backed petition – which is supported by a range of FGM campaigners and groups – attracted hundreds of thousands of signatures since launching at the beginning of February.
Malala – who was shot at close range by the Taliban for her campaign for girls’ education and went on to become the youngest ever nominee for the Nobel peace prize – urged Fahma to keep up pressure on the education secretary to write to every school in the UK telling them to train teachers and parents about the risks and impact of FGM on women and girls.
“I think it is very important that we make people aware of this issue because if no one knows, if no one wants to know, then we can never highlight it in front of responsible people and we can never find a solution,” said Malala, who is 16. “It’s good that … girls like Fahma – so active and with a passion – are continuing this campaign. I truly support you.”
Following sustained public pressure which has seen the Guardian petition attract almost a quarter of a million signatures on Change.org, the Scottish government has agreed to write to every teacher in Scotland about FGM, while an early day motion led by the Liberal Democrat MP Tim Farron in support of the campaign has received the backing of 33 MPs.
The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, supported the campaign, calling it “deeply inspiring” and praising Mohamed.
The Kent police and crime commissioner, Ann Barnes, also signed the petition and, with the backing of the not-for-profit lobbying group Policing for All, urged all 41 PCCs to sign the campaign before Fahma meets Gove.
Malala, who has recovered well in the UK after receiving specialised treatment at the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham, compared the work done by Fahma and other members of the anti-FGM charity Integrate Bristol to her own battle for universal education. “I’m also trying to work for women’s rights and girls’ education and I think the campaign that you are doing is a part of my campaign as well,” she said. “[W]hen you talk about education you talk about quality education and it should be [known] all over the world about FGM – what it is and how can it affect the life of a girl. So I think it should be a part of education and we both will struggle for this. Because we can never achieve our goals unless we struggle for it, so I think this is the time to start it.”
Malala, who now lives in Birmingham with her family, took time from revising for her GCSEs to meet representatives of Integrate Bristol, including Lisa Zimmermann, a teacher at City Academy Bristol who set up the project seven years ago, and 20-year-old Muna Hasan, one of the group’s original members. City Academy Bristol is one of only two schools in the country to have a dedicated project on the practice, which is thought to affect 140 million women and girls worldwide, and is practiced in 28 African countries as well as some parts of Asia and the Middle East.
Hasan said when she joined the campaign the group had to overcome prejudice and opposition from those who did not want FGM to be discussed. “I faced, and quite a few of the girls in the community faced, hardship,” she said. “It wasn’t just certain people in our communities who didn’t want to know – teachers didn’t, politicians didn’t want to know, some doctors didn’t know what it was.”
She said it was now time for politicians such as Gove to play their part in eradicating the practice of FGM, which is believed to affect 66,000 women in England and Wales, while 24,000 girls under the age of 15 are thought to be at risk. “For this to have got so big and to have so many signatures shows people do care, but it is politicians’ time – it’s their turn to start caring and do something active to stop FGM in this country,” she said.
Malala, who will share a platform with other women’s rights campaigners, including FGM activists, at the Southbank centre in London next month as part of the Women of the World festival, said the struggle for women’s and girls’ right must continue. “I totally support you in your campaign for girls’ rights because it should be the right of a girl how she wants her body,” she said. “I’m truly surprised to hear that 140 million women are affected by FGM. I think we should start a campaign and we should struggle for it because if we remain silent we will never achieve our goals and we will never achieve change. The only way to fight against it is to speak.”