THE BLOG

We Are Part of the Generation That Says No to FGM

06/03/2015 08:31 GMT | Updated 05/05/2015 10:59 BST

As a teacher, it hadn't been easy convincing the 12 girls that a horse riding trip would be more fun than a trip to a theme park. But while doing the paperwork, I was told that 11 of the 12 girls had been subjected to FGM. 'They can't mean what I think they mean' was my first thought. Schools are full of acronyms - FSM - free school meals; G&T isn't gin and tonic but gifted and talented. I was sure there must be another meaning for FGM, but there wasn't, they meant female genital mutilation - a procedure which involves the partial or total removal of the external genitalia of women and girls. It's a practice, I thought, that only happened elsewhere, not to British girls, surely?

Back in 2006, everyone agreed that FGM was awful, that it shouldn't be happening, but there was an assumption that nothing could be done about it other than following safeguarding procedures should you suspect a girl was at risk. I started joining monthly meetings where FGM was discussed round a table with representatives from the school, from health and from the community. That was when I first met Nimco Ali.

Once, a year four girl told me she'd had an operation in Africa during the summer holidays - she was apologising for having to go to the toilet so often. I reported this to the school but they weren't interested and when I told Nimco Ali about this, she thought I wasn't protecting the girl. It took her two years to speak to me again as she said it brought back the memory of her own teacher telling her 'It sometimes happens to girls like you', aged seven.

A few girls and I decided to start an after school club. The girls were terrified - FGM was strictly taboo; it was shrouded in some sort of cloak of mystery and nobody talked about it. The power of girl gossip was too much and before long we had 12 girls wanting to get involved. That's when we became Integrate Bristol.

In 2010, the girls produced a wonderful drama doc for radio called Why? They wanted answers to all the questions they'd never been able to voice - why does it happen, it is part of my religion, what does it actually do to my body? The programme was nominated for an award but drew a horrible backlash. We were told 75 irate elders were heading in to complain. The girls said 'great, let's get the press in!' The elders disappeared immediately.

The group grew to 27 and they made a film, Silent Scream, in 2011. For seven months the girls worked very hard but just before the showcasing, the protests began again. The girls thought their premiere would be stopped but then their mothers stepped in. There was a showdown at the school but we won. Alesha Dixon even came to the premiere and it was a huge triumph. The brave young girls were presented with The Chief Constable's Special Commendation award and our numbers jumped to 85!

From 2012, the real change started to happen. Over the past couple of years, the girls have hosted a national FGM conference for 300 delegates, performed a play on gender violence and released a music video, #UseYourHead, which Cosmopolitan UK called 'the song of the summer'.

Just last month we held a conference on ending gender violence through education and launched our new song, Mama, dedicated to the longtime campaigner against FGM who passed away in October last year, Efua Dorkenoo, OBE.

Our charity is growing steadily and the young people's work is going from strength to strength. They are the ones who come up with all the ideas - and even though they seem impossible at the time, they always work. None of this work would be possible without funding - we desperately need support to help us grow and keep the changes coming. Thanks to money raised through Red Nose Day, we've been able to train our girls to mentor other pupils to spot the warning signs of girls who might be at risk and to report any danger.

Through their dissemination, the young people have reached over 1,000 girls directly, and many, many more through their films, educational resources and music videos. In the last 12 months, we've provided training and advice to over 2,400 frontline professionals and other adults across the UK.

Raising public awareness is key to all this change and media plays a critical role. The Comic Relief documentary for BBC Three, Stop Cutting Our Girls: A Comic Relief Special is an excellent example of this and we are all hoping it will reach a new audience.

Along our journey, we've had incredible moments, like a mother breaking down and apologising to her daughters for subjecting them to FGM. The best thing is we're now a group of empowered and educated young people who are part of the generation that has said 'no' to FGM.

www.integratebristol.org.uk@FGMSilentscream

Watch 'Stop Cutting Our Girls: A Comic Relief Special' on Wednesday 11 March at 10pm on BBC Three.