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Fahma Mohamed first heard about female genital mutilation FGM when she was Educated, open-minded and strong willed, she didn't know what the term meant, so she asked. Told that the removal of a woman's outer sexual organs was something that had been carried out in her culture — among many others — for hundreds of years as a way of preparing girls for adulthood and assuring their virginity, she was horrified.
I thought it was something that happened in [her mother's] time, that happened in Somalia. I didn't think it would be happening to girls who are my age, or in the UK," she says. All I can remember thinking was — why hasn't anyone tried to stop this before? Fahma is one of nine daughters in a Somali family that moved to Britain when she was seven.
Now 17, she is part of a new generation of anti-FGM campaigners determined to make politicians sit up and listen, and finally end female genital mutilation. A trustee of the charity Integrate Bristol , which fights against FGM, she has now become the face of the Guardian's campaign to help end the practice.
She puts it simply: "I want to help these girls who don't have a voice. In a classroom in the City Academy Bristol — one of the few schools in the country running a dedicated anti-FGM project — she joined a spirited group of teenagers, many of them wearing headscarves, to practice a song composed for the UNs FGM zero-tolerance day on Thursday. Calling themselves the FDL or Female Defence League — with some of the cheekier older girls substituting the word "fanny" for "female" — the girls belted out a song that, as they put it, is "sayin' no to bullshit oppression".
Confidence in the group has not always been so high. Lisa Zimmermann, a teacher who co-founded the organisation, says she became conscious of FGM when told that 11 of 12 girls in a group she was taking on a trip had undergone cutting. At first the group was limited to four girls, who wrote anonymous poetry. Soon more joined, but when the girls made a film, Silent Scream , about FGM, it met fierce opposition and critics descended on the school.