How do we start dealing with the throes of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and sexual violence? How do we begin to address the inhumanity behind these issues that have ravaged our cultures for centuries? By first creating awareness and making it very clear that these inhumanities are sacrileges to the soul.
This premise is what led Activist, Leyla Husesein and Photographer, Jason Ashwood to create Face of Defiance, a global photographic project of portraits of survivors of FGM & sexual violence, commissioned by the Wallace Global Fund & Human Dignity Foundation to raise awareness and lay up solutions.
Susan Gibbs, philanthropic advisor to the Wallace Global Fund. Taken for the Wallace Global Fund as part of our increasingly international Faces of Defiance Project. Of this image Susan writes, photo by @jason_ashwood In this photograph, I am holding a picture of my great aunt, Georgeanna Gibbs Browne. She was born in 1876 to a church-going and upper crust family in Philadelphia, and she was a victim of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). I don't know whether she had been cut before this photograph was taken. Nor do I know why she endured what was then called "extirpation" or "clitoridectomy". This "pioneering" medical technique was performed in the U.S. and Europe to cure female hysteria, nymphomania, and the perils of masturbation. My great aunt's story motivates me to speak out against FGM/C now. In addition to my work leading an effort to save a historic ocean liner, the SS United States, I serve as a philanthropic advisor to the Wallace Global Fund, a U.S.-based foundation committed to FGM/C abandonment. In that role, I help direct philanthropic resources to organizations and activists who are working to combat the practice. The Fund has been committed to this issue since its inception because of the vision and passion of Gordie Wallace, who began championing the rights of girls at risk in the 1970’s. I never knew my great aunt. All I have now are her photographs. In the one I'm holding here, my great aunt's hair is cropped and slightly wild, her eyes look a bit dazed, and her expression is stricken. She looks as if she has suffered. Georgeanna died before I was born, so I did not have first-hand knowledge of her strengths and of her struggles. However, it has been my honor and privilege to join with my sisters in the Faces of Defiance Project and beyond and accompany them in their fight for change. These powerful and inspiring women – and men – are speaking out and working hard and joining together to create a world in which FGM/C will no longer be accepted or practiced. FGM/C has spanned many cultures, religions, and geographies, as has the powerful movement for social change so fiercely determined to end it.
Leyla Hussein is an anti-FGM activist, psychotherapist, a member of the FGM Special Initiative and co-founder of Daughters of Eve, a charity dedicated to ending gender-based violence including female genital mutilation.
Face of Defiance, a portrait project celebrating FGM survivors, is in New York this week! Join us at Rogue Space…
The Girl Generation aptly describes Face Of Defiance’ work – “The Face of Defiance photographs global survivors of and campaigners against FGM from the UK, US and Senegal, who are all willing to speak publicly about their experiences, most for the first time. It seeks to broaden public awareness and to create a new positive dialogue about ending FGM. It gives exposure to the rights of women who should be empowered to speak out about FGM and provides them with the platform to break the cycle and become agents of change. “
Tired of survivors of female genital mutilation being portrayed as broken women, Leyla Hussein explains in this video on The Guardian why she curated an exhibition of portraits by Jason Ashwood at the first FGM summit in the US.
Check out what Leyla Hussein is doing in the world of Women Empowerment and follow it up with these short powerful animated films on FGM have developed by the Royal College of Midwives.