Global Anti-FGM, Activist, and survivor speaks

By: Sallu Kamuskay

Alimatu Dimonekene is a Global Award-winning Anti FGM campaigner and activist born in Sierra Leone. She attended her primary and secondary school in Sierra Leone and later moved to London.

Alimatu Dimonekene was subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM) in Sierra Leone at a very young age. Based on her personal experiences Alimatu has devoted her life to campaigning against the practice for over 20 years.

Alimatu Dimonekene is the Founder of A Girl At A Time, an organization focusing on encouraging young people to raise awareness online, getting involved in the education of girls and supporting local organizations and groups in their communities in eliminating violence against women and girls whilst protecting and safeguarding girls at risk of violence and harm.

Her organization is an independent platform engaging and empowering young people to participate in key issues around gender-based violence and other forms of violence.

Through the following

  • Advocacy
  • Community Awareness
  • Peer to Peer Education and Mentoring.
  • Using effective Communication Tools and Resources.

Very recently, Alimatu organized a Webinar training on Adolescent Mental Health and Childhood Trauma with the Theme “Trauma-Informed Care” at the European Union hosting over twenty participants of doctors, health practitioners, advocates, media personalities and victim of teenage pregnancy. The training was done through a Skype call. Where leading advocates like Janet Fyle MBE of the Royal College Midwives (RCM) delivered an interactive training using a live case study victim of a pregnant 16-year-old young girl teen who shared her experience of trauma.

Here is an exclusive interview we had with her

What is the prevalence of FGM in Sierra Leone?

“In terms of the prevalence of FGM in Sierra Leone, According to UNICEF and some UN data, Sierra Leone is at 86 to 90 % of women between the ages of 15 and 49 who have already been subjected to Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) also known as cutting or circumcision.

This means 9 out of 10 women and girls in Sierra Leone have already been cut. So what that really means is that we are only campaigning for a small group of women and girls in Sierra Leone because a majority of the women and girls have already been cut. 

The practice is so prevalent in Sierra Leone that we are seeing girls being cut at a very young age. This is a cause for concern because it affects the wellbeing of women and girls emotionally, psychologically and mentally. Which is why we are speaking about the complications of it and advocating to put an end on this awful act.”

Living overseas, how are you leading the fight against FGM in Sierra Leone?

 “My own sort of views has always been to support the efforts of the grassroots as a Sierra Leonean living in the Diaspora there may not be much I can do in terms of actions on the ground. But my colleagues who work on the day to day basis have their eyes and ears on the ground,  they know the system, they know the complexity, they know the challenges, they are aware of what needs to be done, they are present at all times.

So for me is how best I can support my colleagues who are working on a daily basis in sort of giving them resources if I could. Networking and introducing them to networks across the world on how we can use technology to end the fight, engaging various networks across the world and creating the platforms where they will have access to resources and information, bringing groups together because it is important that we support one and another. So in so many ways, these are parts of what I do in leading the fight against FGM. I do also work as a global lead campaigner, work with agencies like the UN, UNICEF, Plan International , Concern Sierra Leone, UNFPA,  Royal College of Midwives governments in the UK, Zambia, Senegal and in supporting the schools and raising the voices of survivors of “Female Genital Mutilation” or in general violence against women and sexual abuse. We are now looking at the modern days slavery, exploitation, sex work, transaction of sex of children the online grooming of women and girls even men and boys to lobbying for governments in making a change by talking to our development partners on how they can support the efforts of agencies on the ground to achieve their goals.”

What prompted you to become an anti-FGM activist?

“I am a survivor of FGM, it was my personal experiences that led me to the fight. Many years ago I was just so very scared, I didn’t know what was happening because for me FGM had personal complications on my health. I didn’t realize at the time the harm it had caused on my life until when I was pregnant in the UK and was about to give birth to my first child and I was told by doctors that I was going to struggle in delivering my child and in that struggle I may also bleed to death. I thought for once how awful this is, how terrible that women are having to go through such experiences just because you are born a girl. There was no actual reason for doing it because what has been removed is a healthy organ. But in Sierra Leone my country if you want to become a member of the “Bondo Society” a great institution in itself, you have to be subjected to this awful practice of genital mutilation and I feel this is really bad. How could such an incredible organization align itself with the abuse of women?”

What are you doing in your capacity as an individual to end the cut?

“Well, Salone Messenger.  I do a lot to end the practice of female genital mutilation in Sierra Leone and around the world by adding my voice, by standing shoulder to shoulder with fellow activists, by being the voice, by using various platforms, by being able to negotiate with governments and world leaders about putting an end to FGM, by lobbying for change and changing policies , legislations and laws and contributing my efforts in every way I can to either driving force as a change agent to represent the solidarity of women in fighting for women and girls rights and most importantly using technology to mobilize, engage and seek support to end the cut across the world. I also work with young people in communities to change the narrative that women cannot talk for themselves, the fight against FGM for the last forty years has actually come from African women who have driven this voice of change that we are seeing in Sierra Leone and across the continent.”

What are some of the milestones you have achieved as an activist in the fight against FGM?

“I have had so many, the most prolific and profound award I had was from an organisation called “There Is No Limit Foundation” Founded by two FGM survivors Aissata Camara and Mariana Camara based in New York and I was awarded a Rosie McGrath Activist Award for activism, for standing and believing that I have a voice in leading the fight against FGM from grassroots to higher level. I have also won several awards from Africa. The most recent which is in 2017 which “The African Achievers Award” based in Nigeria awarded me was based on the work I do as a campaigner speaking for women and girls education. My most creative came from an organization based in Kenya founded by Dr. Pauline Long recognizing my work for women and many accolades and achievements that I cannot name all.”

What challenges exist in fighting the cut?

“You see, I am an optimist. I don’t see any challenges as such, what I see is that we have made great strides. We have come a long way and have won battles and we have achieved a lot of progress in ending the fight. If I can just speak for myself personally, in my family I have two daughters and they have not been cut. I am also a grandmother of a three months old baby who has also not been cut. In fact, Salone Messenger In my family and generation, FGM has ended. If we look at it from an individual perspective, changes are already happening. We are ending the cut in general. And yes we understand that it is going to take time because FGM has been around for ages. We are winning, change is happening in Sierra Leone. A couple of weeks ago, we created a WhatsApp group, we were surprised to see men and boys who participated in the group. So we are seeing changes”

With your experience over the years, what will it take to put an end to FGM?

“FGM is ending, it has started within the family just like how the cut started so it is going to be ended step by step. In one village in Sierra Leone, they have already ended the awful act. Change has begun it is happening in so many ways. Though we may not be seeing the change it is happening. Just look at the social media, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp look at the interest people are showing especially from politicians, activists, and media practitioners, everybody is talking about FGM. I want to congratulate the activists on the ground, the organizations who have done immensely well to end the fight and for that, I am truly honored to say I stand on the shoulders of giants and working with great people. I also want to take this opportunity to thank you at Salone Messenger for giving us the platform to talk about things that are very personal to us in such a unique way. Together we can.”

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