Journalists, students, and other individuals regularly contact FORWARD to ask to be put in touch with a woman or girl who has undergone FGM in order to inform a story or their studies. FORWARD supports and works for women and girls who have undergone FGM, it is traumatic for a woman or girl to have to re-tell her experience and many women and girls are not willing to share their experiences outside of the safe spaces of which we provide.
We also recognise that FGM stories are disproportionately requested, when this would not be considered appropriate for other forms of VAWG or child abuse. In our experience, this is part of a wider trend where it is deemed acceptable to ask African or black women about FGM so we take such requests from journalists or students as an opportunity to share information that FGM is child abuse and violence against women and children which can have long-term psychological consequences, and can cause trauma, and that it is generally inappropriate and disrespectful to ask a woman about this directly. Finally, we believe that hearing testimonies from women and girls who have undergone FGM can be important for some people to understand the extremely serious nature of the practice. However, at this stage of the campaign many women’s experiences of the practice have been shared and these are available in documentaries, online articles and books. Therefore, we consider that this type of material is already available for those who may need it without requiring further women to speak publicly about their experiences unless they are willing to do so.
We recognise and have experience that some of the women we support would like to speak publicly about their experience as part of their campaigning and to help other women who may have had similar experiences. When we are aware that a woman would like to speak about her experiences we take the information of the person requesting the story and share it with the woman directly, so she can choose to contact them if she likes. At this stage we also offer support if she does choose to meet with them or publish her story, to establish ground rules with the person they are meeting with regarding the questions they are happy to be asked and the questions they aren’t happy to be asked, and post-interview if it re-traumatises them or affects them in any way.