Left to right: Savera UK Survivor Ambassador Babs Ceesay, Savera UK CEO Afrah Qassim, Savera UK Team Coordinator Bea, Detective Constable Victoria Kelly of Merseyside Police

Survivor Babs Ceesay leads events on International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM

To mark International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Savera UK and Oxford Against Cutting partnered to host twinned events where survivors could share their stories. Led by Savera UK survivor ambassador, Babs Ceesay, the ‘FGM and Life Stages’ events took place during the week of Day of Zero Tolerance to shine a light on the experiences of women who have undergone FGM. 

FGM is any procedure that results in partial or total removal of the external female genitals, or any other injury without a medical reason for it taking place. It is incredibly painful and can cause long lasting physical and mental health issues for those affected. FGM is a human rights violation and a form of abuse. 

The events highlighted what life with FGM is like, the challenges, health concerns and experiences, and how this affects survivors at different stages in their lives. Savera UK’s event took place on Wednesday, 8th February and invited professionals and survivors to come together for discussion.

Left to right: Savera UK Survivor Ambassador Babs Ceesay, Savera UK CEO Afrah Qassim, Savera UK Team Coordinator Bea, Detective Constable Victoria Kelly of Merseyside Police

Babs, leading the session, said: “I think it is important we have events like this to help survivors. Many do not understand what they are going through and some do not know how to access care. These events help them understand that they are not alone in this fight. Furthermore, they will understand that other people are willing to help and support them to overcome their fears.” 

Speaking about her own experience, Babs said: “I talk about my experience because it is therapeutic for me. The more I talk about it, the more I gain control over my fears and trauma. I believe that sharing our experiences will empower more survivors to speak out. As a result, there will be more awareness about FGM and other harmful practices. “

Speakers at the event included Detective Constable Victoria Kelly, of Merseyside Police, Dr Yana Richens OBE, Director of Midwifery at Liverpool Women’s Hospital and Afrah Qassim, CEO and Founder of Savera UK. 

Following the event, Detective Constable Victoria Kelly, of Merseyside Police, said: “I was honoured to be a part of this event linked to the International Day of Zero Tolerance of FGM. To have so many powerful, passionate individuals come together and make a safe space for others to be able to tell their story, was inspiring. It was then extremely positive to hear of the ongoing work around improving the lives of those affected.

“Personally, it was beneficial to be able to highlight my own Merseyside Police role in the Public Protection Unit, which includes being the Police Subject Matter Expert for FGM and to then reiterate that Merseyside Police take any report seriously and are aware of ‘one chance’ to get things right.”

Dr Yana Richens, OBE
Dr Yana Richens, OBE

Dr Yana Richens OBE explained “community events provide people like me the opportunity to listen first hand to what is important to the women” adding, “they provide a safe space for women to feel supported in sharing and have the potential to make a real difference to the lives of other women”.

Dr Richens said the most available aspect of the event from her perspective was the “shared passion from women of all ages and backgrounds who want to make a difference to the lives of other women, and to raise awareness in communities”. 

She added: “Liverpool Women’s Hospital has trained and skilled doctors, midwives, nurses and psychologists to support survivors of FGM. Women need to tell us what we could do better, and it is why attending community groups is so powerful.” 

The Savera UK event was organisaed by Reihana, Savera UK’s Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator. She explained an important part of her work is reaching communities and encouraging them to speak with professionals who are able to provide support and make change. 

Reihana said: “Having spaces where survivors feel safe to open up and share their experiences with each other and with professionals is a vital part of educating ourselves on the real-life experiences of those who have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM).

“I’m grateful we have had the opportunity to host, along with our survivor ambassador Babs Ceesay, this International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM event in partnership with Oxford Against Cutting to shine a light on these human rights violations. Now it is important for us to take away what survivors have told us and take action to make sure survivors receive the best support available.” 

Oxford Against Cutting hosted a webinar cafe later in the week, inviting survivors and professionals to discuss experiences online. 

A spokesperson for Oxford Against Cutting said: “It was a pleasure to work with Savera UK to deliver our twinned events for International FGM Zero Tolerance Day. Our Web Cafe event saw Babs in conversation with Dr Sharon Dixon, with discussion on experiences and medical care for survivors of FGM and stages of life, including menstruation, intercourse, childbirth and menopause. The conversation was a powerful reminder for those in services to ask sensitive questions and support survivors mentally as well as physically.”

If you are affected by FGM or other harmful practices, you can contact Savera UK’s national helpline by calling 0800 107 0726 (Weekdays, 10am – 4pm). If you are in immediate danger, call 999.