Standing together for FGM survivors
Leyla Hussein has been at the forefront of the campaign to end female genital mutilation (FGM) and to ensure support for women and girls affected by it for over 15 years. Her ground-breaking work to provide specialist counselling support for survivors resulted in The Dahlia Project. Since 2014 this unique service has run therapy groups across London and offered life changing help to more than 150 women, working in partnership with Manor Gardens Welfare Trust.
The Dahlia Project is now facing closure due to a lack of funding, and has launched an appeal so that it can continue and expand its pioneering work.
In this blog, three women, all FGM survivors and leading campaigners against the practice, stand in sisterhood with Leyla and explain why this service is so important.
Hoda Ali, Sexual Health Nurse
My heart hurts writing this. As a survivor of FGM this is personal. As a health professional Dahlia Project is a safe space for my patients where I refer women who need help because of FGM. I also know that when I need it I will be seen by Dahlia Project therapists and treated with respect. This is the only clinic of its type in Europe, the only one that is specifically for us, the women who live with the trauma of FGM every day.
Working in the NHS, there is a strong emphasis on child safety. The frontline in protecting children is working with their parents. Supporting women who have had FGM helps them to protect their daughters. It is not rocket science – so why do services like Dahlia Project who do this vital work have to struggle for funding? I can’t help but think it is because survivors run them. FGM is about controlling and suppressing women, and that is also what happens when the survivor/campaigners are not listened too and our work is ignored. FGM is just one type of violence against women and girls.
Politicians say that every child matters; but why don’t girls like me matter? When we are not listened to and helped I see that girls like me don’t matter. Leyla Hussein tells me I am important. She has rescued many of us from the depths of despair and the work she does through the Dahlia Project deserves support.
Hibo Wardere, Author
The Dahlia Project is the only therapeutic service that is tailor made for FGM survivors. I was one of the recipients of this trusted, one-of-a-kind service. Leyla Hussein has given her heart and soul to create this project. She is a survivor who understands what it means to go through FGM. It is a lifelong sentence, affecting all parts of our lives. It is also an ongoing healing process. The team at Dahlia Project help FGM survivors come to terms with what happened to us and they support us as we take control of our lives.
It is because of courageous women like Leyla that survivors are now beginning to get the help they need. Leyla understands us, she stands for us and the service is for us too. She fought so hard to create the Dahlia Project and now we join her in fighting to keep it.
Mariya Taher, Co-Founder of Sahiyo
I am a survivor of FGM/C and I also work to advocate against FGM/C in the U.S. From the moment I met Leyla, I had no doubt in my mind that she understood just how very important it was to help all survivors of FGM/C get back their sense of dignity and respect. Regardless of what country you are living in, for those who have undergone FGM/C, being able to have a safe space where you can share what happened to you with others who will not judge you or condemn you is vital in the path towards healing.
This lesson, this truth, is one that Leyla takes to heart and it is a big reason she began the Dahlia Project in the first place. Too often women who have experienced violence are ashamed of what they have undergone or they are told to keep silent about it; they hold their pain, their tears, and their screams inside.
The Dahlia Project is a much-needed resource in the UK, and it is a haven for those women who are looking for ways to take back control of their lives. The UK is very fortunate to have had an asset as valuable as The Dahlia Project since 2014, and it is incredibly sad to hear that this work is in jeopardy of shutting down because of a lack of funds. I believe that if more people were aware of the work done by the team at the Dahlia Project, they would donate in a second. I did.
Over 137,000 women and girls in England and Wales have undergone FGM. It has devastating lifelong physical and psychological impacts and yet many vulnerable women have no access to support services. Dahlia Project to reaches out to survivors and its therapists are often the first person women are able to tell their stories to and openly discuss how FGM affects their lives.
We need to raise £50,000 to provide safe and accessible specialist counselling services for women affected by FGM. We run groups in locations and at times to suit the women and offer assistance with childcare and transport as well as providing refreshments and interpreters when required.
£250 pays for a community outreach workshop
£180 pays for one woman to attend a 12-week group
£50 pays for childcare for one women to attend counselling
Any donation you make to our appeal will make a massive difference.