Almost exactly four years ago, I met Arianna Huffington, who was one of the judges of the Davos Debates. Along with Paulo Coelho and Muhammad Yunus, she shortlisted my entry to a competition that asked for one human rights campaigner to make a three-minute film, justifying why their issue should get air time and attention at Davos. My issue was that the world needed to pay attention to what was happening to three million girls who were at risk of undergoing female genital cutting each year in Africa alone.
From that moment on, it has felt like female genital cutting, and its ending, has gone from being one of the most taboo subjects to one of the most discussed items on the UK's media and political agenda. Many campaigners, activists and organizations, all working for the same goal, helped to create the environment to make that happen.
I like to think that Orchid Project brought something else though -- a firm conviction and absolute belief that communities, when apprised of their human rights and when approached respectfully, will choose to abandon what is harmful for their daughters.
When Arianna gave me an option then to blog on The Huffington Post, I went through the usual moments of doubt about whether I could or not. Four years later, I have no such doubts, as I can report truly remarkable progress. The UN General Assembly has passed a resolution against FGC. New funding has been committed by the UK Government and the European Union. There has been increasing international recognition of the scale and impact of FGC. But more needs to be done.
February 6 is the internationally recognized day against FGC. This year, we wanted to support the incredible progress that is being made at a grassroots level. Declarations of abandonment of FGC by entire communities continue to happen across African countries.
For the past three years, 38 communities in Mali have been participating in our partner Tostan's community empowerment program. Following the coup d'état in 2012 and the loss of funding, the communities decided to carry on with the program and a number of smaller funders, including Orchid Project, stepped in to help support them.
Last summer, 24 of these communities, all rural, opted to publicly abandon FGC, yet the remaining 14, all urban, felt they were not ready. Since then, they have continued to discuss the issue among themselves. Tostan have continued educational outreach. The communities have come to the decision, collectively and through a process of debate, to end FGC. They have the support of their government, of their leaders and most importantly of each other. This declaration will engage with 60,000 people choosing to abandon FGC.
We are proud to be supporting this decision. It is a reminder that real change is happening on the ground; that real change happens through the decisions made by those for whom issues like FGC are a daily reality. We will continue to give our support to people making these life changing decisions and help end female genital cutting.