By Sawsan Salim, Director of KMEWO Edited by Thelma Ruskie
KMEwO was established in 1999 as the first Kurdish and Middle Eastern women’s organisation in the uK to raise awareness on harmful traditions that affect women’s health and wellbeing. Over the years, KMEwO has provided advice and support to victims of Honour Based Violence (HBV), forced marriages, FGM survivors and other forms of human rights abuses. we have also been active campaigners in making positive changes in policy and legislation in regard to HBV.
Our work entails running workshops, seminars, and conferences to highlight the issues within the wider community and to press for appropriate actions to combat the practices. We also run education and training classes for the women so that they can regain the self-confidence and secure paid employment.
KMEWO was the first women’s organisation to highlight the high scale of FGM practices within Kurdish and Middle Eastern communities outside, as most other organisations focussed on African communities. Following the Nationwide Foundation funding received in 2009, we produced a DVD to train on HBV including FGM for young people and raising awareness about the harmful effects of the practice and how to support victims and survivors. We offer training on FGM in Islington and Southwark using DVD, The Holiday, and training manual specifically designed to raise awareness about FGM among young people.
In 2014, KMEWO was funded by Rosa to provide awareness workshops to Kurdish and Middle Eastern communities. A series of eight workshops were held attended by over a 100 community members. The results of the conferences found that FGM is still being practiced and the survivors continue to experience lots of physical and psychological problems. Moreover, it was found that most of the communities lacked awareness and understanding of what FGM is and the different types of FGM. Stigma towards discussing matters relating to sex and the views of “what happens to me happens to everyone else” was also prevalent hindering people from discussing issues of FGM openly.
These findings led to the conclusion that there is need for increased awareness and the importance of bringing people together to discuss about FGM and support survivors. Most of the FGM survivors are committed to safeguarding their daughters, and any other girls, against FGM.
This led to the November 2014 FGM awareness event for professionals titled “changing attitudes towards FGM amongst Kurdish community” which was addressed by among others Falah Muradxan, a human rights lawyer and campaigning against FGM in Iraqi Kurdistan. He informed the attendees about WADI organisation’s initiatives and their successful 10 years work on changing the attitudes of people as well as authorities in the Kurdish region of Iraq. This has resulted in changing the law by criminalising FGM and has been instrumental in reducing FGM significantly in many areas in the region.
KMEWO is very pleased to see FGM being driven to the top of the UK government’s agenda. We hope to see more action by policy makers, legislation and communities on protecting girls against FGM. However, although this is a welcome first step, we cannot afford to be complacent. It all depends on how effective the police, the Courts and the judges are in arresting, prosecuting and jailing those found to be responsible for perpetrating such crime. Regrettably, it is understood that some doctors and other medical professionals are already trying to circumvent the legislation, by camouflaging the procedure as cosmetic surgery or a medical necessity. KMEWO also believe that the role of education will be essential to combatting FGM and that this should be actively pursued.