LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Campaigners against female genital mutilation are mourning the death of Efua Dorkenoo, regarded by many as “the mother” of the global movement to end FGM.
Dorkenoo’s pioneering work over three decades strongly contributed to the international recognition of FGM as a public health and human rights issue.
Jane Ellison, Britain’s public health minister, tweeted: “We have lost Efua Dorkenoo OBE, mother to a movement & beloved inspiration to so many of us. But generations of girls will bless her.”
Dorkenoo, senior FGM advisor at rights group Equality Now, helped transform attitudes in Britain, where FGM — once considered a taboo issue — is now regarded as child abuse.
She also worked with grassroots campaigners in Africa who are trying to eradicate the brutal ritual across the continent where an estimated 3 million girls are cut every year.
Around 125 million women worldwide are thought to be affected by FGM, an ancient tradition which involves the partial or total removal of the female genitalia.
Since January Dorkenoo had spearheaded an African-led social change campaign, The Girl Generation: Together to End FGM, which formally launched in London and Nairobi on Oct. 10.
“We resolve to continue Efua’s work to make the world a safer place for girls and women. Her legacy – an unstoppable movement to empower girls and realize their rights – is gathering pace each day,” said Joanne Hemmings, The Girl Generation’s deputy program director.
Campaigners took to twitter to pay tribute to Dorkenoo’s “grace and guts” in her advocacy work which had seen her receive death threats.
Leyla Hussein, an FGM survivor and one of Britain’s most outspoken campaigners, tweeted: “Devastated and heartbroken ... I’m lost for words. Hurting deeply.”
FGM activist Hibo Wardere added: “We will make sure we carry on where you left and make (you) so proud of us all.”
Dorkenoo, who was born in Ghana in 1949, first became aware of the terrible impact of FGM on women’s lives while working as a midwife in Britain.
In 1983 she set up the charity FORWARD which helped break the wall of silence around FGM. She was awarded the OBE (Order of the British Empire) by the Queen in 1994.
The following year she moved to the World Health Organization’s headquarters in Geneva where she helped introduce FGM onto the agendas of government health ministries.
Reporting by Emma Batha, Editing by Ros Russell