FORWARD's role in the anti-FGM campaign has been catalytic and ground breaking, moving FGM onto international and national policy agendas; and building the capacity of groups, professionals and communities to implement necessary changes.
- In the early 1980s, when the issue of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) was still sensitive and highly politicised, FORWARD played a catalytic leading role in putting the issue on the international agenda, breaking down the walls of silence surrounding FGM and bringing FGM to the forefront.
FORWARD mobilised and facilitated international funding support towards activism against FGM in Africa. FORWARD funded activities and research on the practice in Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria and the Gambia. In the early 1990s it supported EQUALITY NOW in a public action campaign that led to UNICEF increasing its funding support for FGM elimination in practising countries.
In the 1980s, when international debate surrounding FGM had reached a cultural impasse, FORWARD's predecessor "the Woman's Action Group on Excision and Infibulation" was at the forefront of advocacy efforts that led to FGM being introduced onto the agenda of the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) in Geneva, recognised as a human rights violation. As a direct outcome of FORWARD's intervention, the UNHRC appointed a Special Rapporteur on FGM and Harmful Traditional Practices that led to increased international recognition of FGM as a human rights issue. Another important outcome from the intervention at the UNHRC was that for the first time the World Health Organization issued a statement against the medicalisation of FGM.
- FORWARD was one of the only two non-governmental organisations called upon to assist the World Health Organization Secretariat to field a resolution on FGM and Harmful Traditional Practices through the World Health Assembly in 1994. The adoption of this resolution introduced FGM onto the agendas of African Health Ministries.
- In 1994, FORWARD's founder and then Executive Director, Efua Dorkenoo, published "Cutting the Rose. Female Genital Mutilation: the Practice and its Prevention." The book subsequently gained recognition as a resource and as one of a few definitive sources of ideas on how to take forward the FGM prevention campaign, influencing the world agenda on FGM elimination. In 2002 the book won an award in Africa when it was selected by an international jury (hosted by the Zimbabwean International Book Fair) as one of "Africa's 100 Best Books for the Twentieth Century". Efua was also awarded a British State Honour - the Order of the British Empire (OBE) - for setting up FORWARD and for the immense achievements made by FORWARD towards the elimination of FGM. Efua is currently working on another FGM book as a follow up to "Cutting the Rose" - so watch this space!
- FORWARD campaigned to ensure that FGM was not medicalised in the health care system. Its support to the media led to two medical doctors being exposed for agreeing to undertake FGM as a result of which they were both disciplined by being struck off the medical register in the United Kingdom. FORWARD had previously been part of a lobby that prevented the medicalisation of FGM in the Netherlands in 1992 and more recently in Florence, Italy in 2004.
- FORWARD led the way in pushing for a legislative framework to be used as a tool towards abolishing FGM. It collaborated with UK parliamentarians and as a result of its lobbying activity FORWARD was successful in getting the first legislation passed against FGM in the UK in 1985 - The Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985. The UK legislation became a model for several western countries (for example the U.S) and it also became a major advocacy tool for African activists campaigning for legislative measures against FGM in their countries.
- More recently FORWARD has been part of a successful lobby leading to a new UK anti-FGM law that came into force in 2004 - The Female Mutilation Act 2003.This more recent Act closed the loop hole that made it possible for residents in the UK to take their girls abroad for genital mutilation without prosecution. Since then, FORWARD has been working to increase awareness of the Act in the UK and in our work with FGM practicing communities has been using the law as a preventative tool.
- A key achievement of FORWARD has been to conceptualise FGM as a form of abuse and a child protection issue and to have developed a strategic framework and technical materials for local authorities (health, social services, education and the police) for mainstreaming into the UK child protection system in 1989. This core child protection framework became a model for use in other western countries. Increasingly a number of African countries (Burkina Faso, Kenya, Ghana) have also introduced a child protection dimension to their work on FGM. Overall FORWARD has supported multiple western governments, agencies and authorities to initiate legislative, child protection and professional intervention work on FGM, as well as to develop strategic frameworks for preventative programmes for African and refugee communities.
- FORWARD has been recognised as one of the leading organisations working against FGM in the UK and as a result it receives core funding from the UK Department of Health. FORWARD has been the leading organisation to provide training for professionals in health, social services, education, and the police force, as well as community organisations and the voluntary sector. The organisation continues to offer information and advice in relation to FGM and child protection to the statutory sector and the general public at large who approach us for guidance and support, and FORWARD also supporting other organisations and groups to work on FGM.
- FORWARD has been a pioneer in promoting innovative strategies and community-orientated approaches towards the prevention of FGM, which have been taken forward by others in the initiation of their campaigns against FGM. Such approaches include advocating for empowerment of African women to take up leadership roles in the anti-FGM campaign, promoting counselling approaches as a method of working with girls and women on FGM, restructuring puberty rituals without FGM, as well as the use of story telling and drama in addressing the gender and human rights dimension of FGM.
- FORWARD has played a key role in enabling individuals, professionals, communities, national and international groups to start campaigns on FGM. One of our greatest achievements in this regard came when it supported the membership of Amnesty International for Amnesty to adopt a resolution that placed FGM onto the Amnesty agenda in 1993. FORWARD also acted in an advisory capacity and supported EQUALITY NOW in initiating its campaign against FGM.
- FORWARD has been one of the few anti-FGM groups advocating for improving access and quality health care to women who suffer FGM health complications FORWARD was the first organisation to highlight the need for specialised care for women with complications arising from FGM. FORWARD collaborated with the Northwick Park Hospital to establish the first African Well-Women Clinic dealing with obstetric and gynaecological health complications at the Northwick Park Hospital in London in 1992. Aimed at girls and women who have undergone FGM this clinic became a model for similar specialist FGM health services in other UK inner cities and in many European countries.
- FORWARD has been instrumental in facilitating the integration of FGM into the UK national policy on reproductive and sexual health; and has been a resource for health professional bodies (such as the Royal College of Nursing, Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists) in formulating policy on FGM.
Meryl Streep with Efua Dorkenoo, OBE, Founder of FORWARD after presenting her with the 2001 EQUALITY NOW Human Rights Award
In Africa today, women's voices are being raised against genital mutilations which are still being practised on babies, little girls, and women. Yet due to resource constraints these voices are not reaching out to all the populations in rural areas where FGM remains a traditional practice.