According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone some form of female genital mutilation (FGM), with about 3 million girls at risk of undergoing the procedure each year. One Gambian young woman, Jaha Dukureh, is on a mission to eradicate the practice and her effort has been recognized through a Nobel Peace Prize nomination.
FGM is the general term for procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. The practice is most prevalent in Africa, specifically 27 African countries, and the Middle East and Asia. In the Gambia, 76% of girls and women aged 15 to 49 years had undergone FGM in 2013. Anti-FGM activist Dukureh, has been working in the area since 2015 and has made great strides in helping the Gambia eradicate the practice.
Although the nomination process for the Nobel Prize is to be secret, a leaked report indicates that Dukureh was nominated by Norwegian politician Jette Christenssen who made her position public this year. Christenssen met Dukureh during the launch of her film ‘Jaha’s Promise’ in 2017. The film is about Jaha’s struggle against Gambia’s religious leaders and the government to remove the thousand-year-old tradition of circumcision of newborn girls.
Her work, in fact, influenced the ban former Gambian president, Yahya Jammeh put into place against the practice. As Christenssen argued, “her case is incredibly important not only for what’s happening in the Gambia, but for the rest of the world too.”
28-year-old Dukureh has an incredible story of survival as well. She underwent FGM as a one week old and was later sent as a child bride to the U.S. at the age of 15. When her daughter was born in 2015, she committed to this work, saying, “I started this work when I had my daughter, Khadija. I knew there was no way she would ever live the life I lived. But it’s also not just my daughter. Every day, 6,000 girls are cut, and no one speaks out for those girls.”
She argues that survivors must be front and center in leading movements and policies, rather than sensationalized about their cause. She argues, “because I know what it feels like to live with FGM, I can advocate better for the millions of girls like me who have to live with the practice, and do everything I possibly can to make sure that this number doesn’t get any bigger.”
In addition to influencing national policy, Dukureh is the founder and executive director of Safe Hands for Girls. She is also a regional goodwill ambassador for the United Nations women bloc. She was named one of Time 100 influential people in 2016, alongside world leaders and politicians John Kerry, Angela Merkel, Aung San Suu Kyi, Bernie Sanders and Christine Lagarde.
She knows that although progress has been made in her home country, “[her] work is needed now more than ever. We don’t want FGM to go underground.”
I have been nominated for the nobel Peace prize!!! https://t.co/DtdCLOMSKh
— Jaha Mapenzi Dukureh (@JahaENDFGM) February 7, 2018
About the Nobel Prize
The Nobel Prizes have been awarded since 1901 and conferred on top achievers in six fields: Physics, Chemistry, Literature, Physiology or Medicine, Promotion of Peace and Economic Sciences.
Prize-winners are often individuals, teams of two or three and organisations called Nobel Laureates. The laureates are nominated by their peers, including former laureates, politicians, justices and academics among a few others, and then secretly chosen by Nobel Committees and prize-awarding institutions.
For the peace prize, the Norwegian Nobel Committee composed of five members is appointed by the Norwegian parliament.
The Committee chooses the laureates through a majority vote before the winner is announced in October.
The awards were created by Swedish scientist and philanthropist Alfred Nobel who bequeathed most of his fortune to the establishment of the prize upon his passing in 1896.
The first prizes were presented in 1901 and since then, over 900 people have been awarded.
Details of the selection process and nominees can only be revealed until after 50 years.
Despite the Nobel Foundation’s requirement that prizes be awarded only to living recipients, Canadian immunologist Ralph M. Steinman was awarded a 2011 Nobel for medicine posthumously. The committee did not know he had died three days prior.
The winners receive their prizes at a ceremony on December 10th – the anniversary of the death of Alfred Nobel.
All the prizes except the peace prize are presented in Stockholm by the King of Sweden. The peace prize is awarded in Oslo by the Norwegian Nobel Committee with the King of Norway.
The prize includes a sum of money, a citation and an 18-carat gold medal that bears the face of the founder Alfred Nobel. The money is received after a year.