Welcome to part two of our Inspirational Interview with Muna Hassan of Integrate Bristol. In this part, Muna talks about getting more people involved in the effort end female genital mutilation in particular and violence against women in general. She also talks about raising awareness through a stage play.
7. There has been recent progress with the UN banning FGM. Could you tell us more about this?
Of course we’re delighted about the UN’s statement about banning FGM and we’ve also heard that FGM is to become part of Ofsted’s (regulatory body for education in UK) safeguarding criteria so hopefully, schools will have to comply even if it makes them feel uncomfortable. You can’t pick and choose which types of abuse you address – if it’s your job to protect children, just get on with it! We still have a long way to go, but this is definitely a brilliant start.
8. We understand that with Integrate Bristol you are doing a play about violence against women. Please tell us more about this.
We feel very strongly that FGM should be seen as violence against women and girls—yes it’s abuse—but it’s gender-based violence and for that reason, we wanted to show that in our play. We have also looked at the effects of khat abuse and its links with domestic violence. More and more, women and others are coming to us, asking for help with issues that worry them. We were asked to do work around khat; to support the women who are trying to get the drug recognized and made illegal. They also want help with domestic violence. So yes, the play looks at different forms of VAWG, but it’s not nearly as gloomy as the subject matter suggests – it’s very funny in some places and connects with both the younger and older generations! A director from the Old Vic in Bristol read the script and he loved it. He said the characters were really strong and he really wants to work with us in the production.
The performance will be in a big theatre in Bristol. We need lots of seating so we haven’t decided where to hold it yet. We’re hoping to get some of our mothers and women from the community on stage too!
9. How can more young people get involved in FGM activism?
That is quite difficult. The first thing is to start talking about it – tell your teachers, friends and so on, find the feminist in you, and speak out. Don’t listen when they tell you to ‘keep it in the community.’ VAWG is everywhere; you don’t ask those who are guilty of any other form of abuse to solve the crime, do you? Leaving FGM to the communities means leaving the girls at risk in the hands of the perpetrators of the crime. FGM is the only form of abuse that this is treated this way, and it shouldn’t be!
We are very fortunate because we had Integrate Bristol to guide and support us. Now we decide on and lead the work and more and more people are joining. Doing this work when you’re alone is not easy; actually we had some really difficult times too. Some men, and even a woman, tried really hard to stop us. They wanted to stop the showcasing of our film ‘Silent Scream’ and they didn’t like us doing this work. Now, more and more of them are joining in – not with us, they are trying to do their own FGM work. So really, if young people want to get involved, I’d suggest they contact an organisation or a charity and see if they are doing any work around FGM. Or perhaps they could find a sympathetic teacher in their school. After-school groups work well and most of them would be your peers. If only Michael Gove (Education Secretary in UK) would listen and make PSHE statutory in Academies as well as other schools then FGM could become part of the curriculum and an inspirational teacher may want to get a project started. Twitter and other sites are good too, as are feminist organisations. Daughters of Eve in London, Amnesty, and Forward run projects too. It’s worth contacting any suitable organisation in your area and finding out. Failing that, email our charity and we’ll see if we can offer advice! email@example.com.
10. How can we stop violence against women for good in society?
I wish I had the answer to that question. Firstly, women need to stop accepting or justifying it – it is never acceptable. VAWG is not particular to any religion or culture. It’s all over the place; actually, it even creeps into religions. No religion aims to suppress women, so where did the suppressive ‘additions’ come from? There is no simple answer to this but if ALL women stand up against abuse then we are one step closer to eradicating VAWG! Personally, I feel there is a lot to do in my own society, so I am looking closer to home, trying to make a change here, one that will hopefully protect my fellow sisters. Perhaps one day in the future I’ll get involved in VAWG in other countries. I think women’s groups and the strength of women’s voices is really important. Feminism is not a dirty word—it’s equality and logic. It’s alright to say I’m a feminist and be proud. Society should accept women for who they are, not try to control or ‘fix’ us.
I know I keep going on about education but it really is the key, which is why I’m so worried about the freedom Academies now have here in the UK. It’s all about A’s to C’s and ‘bums on seats’, so difficult topics like FGM, which may upset some parents, are pushed under the carpet. It is also imperative that bullies who try to silence girls speaking out – as they tried to silence us – are not allowed to. It was horrible, and I wouldn’t want anyone to go through what we did. We had some amazing people supporting us, including the amazing former DCI Dave McCallum, Jackie Mathers, the Designated Safeguarding Nurse, Nimco Ali from Daughters of Eve and our wonderful Project manager Lisa Zimmermann. Without them, I’ve no idea what would have happened. Adults and schools need to back their girls, to stand by them and praise what they are doing. School is where you can change minds, inspire a new generation, discover new things, but it should also be where everyone feels safe, regardless of gender or race. If you want to eradicate VAWG, start there!