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Genital mutilation campaigner nominated for Woman of the Year

Efua Dorkenoo from Wembley has campaigned for 30 years against female genital mutilation

A campaigner who has spent years trying to protect girls from painful mutilation has been nominated for an award.

Efua Dorkenoo, 64, from Wembley, has campaigned for 30 years against female genital mutilation (FGM) and is now up for a Cosmopolitan Ultimate Woman of the Year Award trophy.

Mrs Dorkenoo worked as a student midwife in London in the 1970s and was exposed to the reality of the practice.

A Somali woman had been mutilated by men in her hometown and Mrs Dorkenoo was horrified.

She said: “There was a panic among the team as no one knew what to do. The woman clung to me because I was the only black face around for support. In those days it was a highly political and controversial subject.”

The midwife then dedicated her life to the prevention of FGM.

She volunteered for Minority Rights Group International and managed to convince the UN to see FGM as a human rights issue, rather than a cultural one.

In 1983, she launched her own women’s rights organisation, Forward, which was instrumental in the creation of the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act in 1985. She also lobbied the NHS for funds to set up the first FGM clinic in Northwick Hospital in 1992.

She said: “I was told by supporters of FGM that I should die. You can’t speak out against FGM without risking your life, but the hardest part of campaigning has been hearing from women who have been psychologically scarred. One woman’s FGM was performed by cauterising the whole area. She suffered a constant burning sensation, and her only option was to take nerve blockers.”

In the 1990s, she helped the World Health Organisation achieve a legal classification for FGM among UN countries, meaning FGM was banned worldwide.

Mrs Dorkenoo was named advocacy director of the FGM programme at Equality Now, an organisation that promotes the rights of women and set about campaigning for the NSPCC to recognise FGM as child abuse. She now works with the Royal College of Midwives to encourage health professionals to report FGM to the police.

She has been nominated for the Women’s Warrior award and the winner will be announced on December 5.

 

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