THE BLOG

What WOW Means to Me

13/03/2016 20:38 GMT | Updated 14/03/2017 09:12 GMT

WOW is all I can say when I look back at the last five years. So much has changed in the conversation about FGM and ending the practice within our lifetime is now a tangible reality. It is hard to believe that for me this journey started on a Saturday morning in one of the back rooms of Southbank Centre.

Women of the World festival was in its second year and weeks before I met Hannah Pool who, impressed with my "Mitts Off My Muff" sign, asked if I would come and do a ten-minute bite. I won't lie - I was scared, I had never told a room full of people that I was a survivor of FGM. I had told few in fact about my experience but I also knew that words could really set you free.

My hope in the moment I stood up was to not just share my story, but speak to the girl beyond those walls and explain how FGM, and in fact no act of violence, can define you. Yes, I carry the scars of an act inflicted on me due to my female strength, but I also am an embodiment of women who have survived and pushed forward. I know what came before me and the sacrifices that were made to make things better for me and other women today. Women such as Efua Dorkenoo, who passed away in 2014, have prepared the way for activists like me and so many others to take the conversation forward to a new generation. People can sometimes forget

My way of talking about FGM is fanny-forward. I don't have time for the nonsense that sometimes comes along with an issue like this. People used to be worried about how to talk about it, but it is not complicated. It's wrong and people need to stop doing it. There can be no compromises or loopholes. Whether a razor or a laser are used, it's something which belongs in the dark ages. There are no excuses and people need to stop fearing strong girls, which turn into strong women.

Today, over 200million women globally stand affected by FGM, but to me those are 200million individuals who refuse to be broken - women such as Edna Adan, who has single-handedly rebuilt maternal health services in Somaliland and Jaha Dukureh, who at the age of 26, is convincing leaders in her native Gambia as well as in the US, to ensure she is the last generation to be cut. These are women of vision and know how to get things done, against the odds.

Since I shared my story, there was one person in particular who has always kept me going - my five year old niece, Sofia. Before she was born, every single woman in my family was cut, but I knew that things could change with her. She is the embodiment of a new generation of free and fearless girls and I am so excited about the woman she is growing up to be. I called her on International Women's Day to congratulate her. She said "I am only a girl, Nimco". But that is already so much. She will learn over time what has gone before her and where she can fit in. Her story is only beginning.

In Sofia, I wanted to see all that I knew my mother, grandmother and her mother wanted for me - and for each generation. They wanted real freedom - the kind of freedom that when you speak of, you can feel and live. Over the last few years, I have spoken about Sofia at WOW, because, just like her, the festival refuses to limit itself or the women it empowers. WOW is a revolution of women and it is growing every year - not just here in London, but also around the world. It is a movement in its own right and I am so proud to be part of it.

Nimco Ali is a Somali-born British activist and co-founder of Daughters of Eve. Nimco is taking part in a panel discussion on FGM as part of Southbank Centre's WOW - Women of the World Festival (8-13 March); southbankcentre.co.uk