Campaigning at a global level: CMS mission partner Ann-Marie Wilson at the United Nations in New York
A United Nations commission will be hearing from a CMS mission partner this International Women's Day – about the role faith groups can play in stamping out female genital mutilation.
Photo: 28 Too Many
Ann-Marie Wilson will be addressing events at the 57th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women taking place this week and next in New York.
She forms part of the British delegation, which includes Lynn Featherstone MP and representatives of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development.
Ann-Marie has been part of meetings over the past year with government representatives putting together Britain's case against female genital mutilation (FGM).
The Sunday Times reported yesterday that Lynn Featherstone "will announce at a UN summit on violence against women that Britain will lead a worldwide campaign to stamp out the practice."
FGM is currently practised in around 40 countries (28 of them in Africa) and affects three million girls and women each year.
Ann-Marie, who gave up a business career to follow a calling to eradicate this ritual, will be talking on the controversial subject of whether faith groups are a help or hindrance in tackling the subject of FGM.
Over two meetings she will discuss the first findings of her charity 28 Too Many's mapping exercise of FGM in Africa and address the subject of how faith communities can help to end FGM, which she describes as "a cultural practice that pre-dates Christianity".
"One thing we'll be launching is a faith statement – saying we have remained silent – we have not acted – and get the church to stand up and say this is not right," says Ann-Marie.
One of the signatories speaking alongside Ann-Marie is another long-standing friend of CMS, the Rt Rev Bernard Ntahoturi, Archbishop of Burundi.
The meetings are taking place under the banner of We Will Speak Out, a faith-based coalition committed to working together to end sexual violence. They form part of a week of intense lobbying before Commission members vote on issues in the second week of the meeting.
Ann-Marie will present some of the evidence from research in Tanzania that 28 Too Many carried out with support from Tearfund (Ann-Marie is also a member of Tearfund's Inspired Individuals programme).
She believes one of the most important roles for the church is in using its grassroots network to educate people and dispel some of the myths about FGM, which in certain countries is even blessed by churches.
"One of the myths in Tanzania is that FGM is cure for a bacterial infection children get," she explains. "One girl recently died having had FGM at a local witchdoctor – and really she just had diarrhoea."
The focus of the current session of the Commission is "the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls".
Forty-five member states of the United Nations serve as members of the Commission at any one time. They each have a representative who contributes to producing the "agreed conclusions" of the session. These include concrete recommendations for governments and others to act upon.
Last year, says Ann-Marie, there were no agreed conclusions, so she values prayer that this year's session will produce some, including recommendations that governments should act to eradicate FGM.
Philip Mounstephen, CMS Executive Leader, added his backing to Ann-Marie's work. "It’s not every day that we see a mission partner addressing the UN and we are wholehearted in our support of Ann-Marie in her pioneering advocacy," he said.
Ann-Marie is speaking at 2.30pm on Thursday 7 March and at 10am on Friday 8 March.
28 Too Many is continuing its work to map the extent of FGM in 28 African countries and is soon to publish its first four country profiles on Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia.
Ann-Marie's blog about CSW57