LONDON – Two survivors of female genital mutilation (FGM) have launched Britain's first billboard campaign to raise awareness and encourage girls at risk to get advice as public pressure mounts to stamp out the practice.
Survivors Aissa Edon and Hoda Ali joined forces with students Mabel Evans and Kain Egan who came up with the idea after realizing that no one in Britain had used billboards to highlight FGM unlike in some African countries.
An estimated 137,000 women and girls in England and Wales have undergone FGM, the partial or total removal of external genitalia which can cause physical and psychological problems, while another 60,000 girls under 15 are believed at risk.
The campaign was launched amid growing public pressure for authorities to take more action to stop FGM, which has been illegal in Britain for 30 years but has yet to be eradicated.
Earlier this year a British doctor accused of carrying out FGM on a new mother was acquitted in the country's first FGM trial. Doctors are under orders to start recording cases of FGM by October.
"Like other survivors I live with the consequences of FGM very day and it is wonderful that these young people have chosen to stand with us," said Ali, a sexual health nurse at a London hospital and a trustee of the anti-FGM charity 28 Too Many.
Ali has previously told conferences that she experienced FGM at the age of seven in her native Somalia then fled her war-torn country, finally settling in Britain.
Despite numerous operations, she was told she would never be able to have children.
Edon, a midwife at Ealing Hospital in London where she founded the FGM-specific Hope Clinic, was cut at the age of six in Mali along with her one-year-old sister.
Worldwide, more than 130 million girls and women have undergone FGM.
The first poster, showing girls and women of differing ages with "FGM" written on their foreheads, will be displayed at several sites in west London during May and June.
"Educating people is essential to end the practice and also to ensure that those who have had FGM have access to the support and healthcare they need," said Ann-Marie Wilson, executive director of 28 Too Many.