THE BLOG

Girl Summit Wasn't Just a Celebration

04/08/2014 16:16 BST | Updated 01/10/2014 10:59 BST

And now for something completely different: a (mostly) serious and (mostly) optimistic blog. On Tuesday the 22nd of July the Prime Minister David Cameron hosted the first International Girl Summit to mobilise support for the fight against FGM and child, early and forced marriage (CEFM). This was a historical moment for those of us who have been trying to get these issues on the agenda: finally some governments acknowledging that the lives and futures of millions of girls have to be protected. It was also a momentum-building moment worldwide. With over 600 delegates the air was full of energy and hope. For us seasoned and disillusioned campaigners, it seemed like the time for change was finally here.

For me it was also a gathering of old friends and colleagues - almost like a high school reunion, only without the showing off of husbands and boyfriends (thankfully, in my case) and without the party clothes and makeup (well, at least for most people. I did mention I'm single, right?). I spent most of the day catching up with friends and colleagues and one question we kept asking each other was 'Did you think this would have happened a year ago?' For all of us, the answer was a resounding 'No'. Many of the campaigners in the summit have been waiting for this day for over 40 years; women I grew up admiring and being inspired by, women like Efua Dorkenoo and Edna Ismail, were there celebrating, speaking and waiting anxiously for world leaders' commitments.

The spotlight, though, wasn't on the campaigners, on our PM, or ministers from around the world: it was on young girls. Girls from the UK and around the world hosted the event, spoke about their hopes for the future and made even stiff-lipped bureaucrats dance when they sang. I don't think there was a dry eye in the audience when a young girl from India spoke about her friend who could no longer play with her because she was married off to an old man. And no one could have expressed what was at the heart of the Summit better than Malala Yousafzai when she said 'we should not be followers of traditions that go against women's rights (...) Traditions are not sent from heaven and they're not sent from God. It is we who make culture and we have the right to change it.'

So after that brilliant day, and the inevitable all night 'debrief' at the pub, what did we, survivors and campaigners make of the day? Well, we got back to being sceptical. We heard a lot about commitments, but little about detail. We thought there was going to be compulsory training in schools, but we didn't hear the PM or Deputy PM mention any such plans on the day. We thought there was going to be investment in grass-roots prevention, but the Government only committed £30,000 in community champions. In fact, nationally, it was only the Department of Health, that, under Jane Ellison's leadership, came up with a detailed action plan to protect and support women. The only other commitment I'm excited about, was the promise of a new FGM unit, following the model of the Forced Marriage unit, that can intervene to protect girls being taken abroad to undergo FGM. I will be working closely with the Home Office to ensure this comes to life.

So what are we going to do next? To start with, we won't let anyone rest on their laurels. We are planning to hold the Government into account for any backtracking, we are planning to get clarification on those commitments and we intend to see words turn into actions. There is one thing we're confident about: the Girl Summit wasn't just a celebration and it won't be a pre-election stunt. It can only be the launch pad for a new campaign, driven by millions of girls around the world. Now we have the world's attention, we are more determined than ever to see FGM end within our generation.

If you haven't had the chance to watch the Girl Summit, you can still watch it here:

https://event.webcasts.com/viewer/portal.jsp?ei=1040104

And you can make your own pledges about how you will contribute to ending FGM and CEFM here:

http://www.girlsummit2014.org/Commitment/Show