A group of African schoolgirls have helped launch a community-led research project to mark International Day of Zero Tolerance to female genital mutilation (FGM).
Twenty teenagers from Notre Dame High School in Glasgow were involved in the Enhancing Transcultural Participation (ETP) project which aims to help prevent FGM.
The project, based at Glasgow Caledonian University, aims to develop a strategy and relationships between individuals, community groups, policymakers, researchers, government and third sector organisations.
Senior lecturer and researcher Dr Ima Jackson leads the project with PhD student and ETP researcher Judy Wasige, and she said she hopes more young people will be included in similar conversations in the future.
Ms Jackson said: “This project links into other campaigns like #MeToo, Black Lives Matter and ‘decolonising the academy’, giving a voice to young people and a range of perspectives, particularly young women of African descent who have very few opportunities to be heard.
“To me this is about Scotland learning how to make this happen through the ETP project.
“Representation matters in all areas of life and Scotland with its demographic changes has to develop processes in order to ensure that those who are being researched and who policy is made about are right in there. Historically this has not happened and it cannot continue.
“FGM and lack of voice for young women is a global issue. Most of the project participants come from communities who historically have practised FGM and hence have links between Scotland and the communities ‘back home’ where they can potentially influence internationally as well as nationally.”
Funded by the Scottish Government and European Social Fund, the project is run in partnership with the African Women in Scotland Association and Glasgow City Council’s English as a Second Language service.
Research data was collected through working closely with women of African descent and interviews by the schoolgirls with parents, peers and practitioners.
Researcher Ms Wasige said it had “been a great joy to watch the girls grow” through the project.
She added: “I have seen such a transformation. It is amazing. They had never before been given the formal space to meet other girls of African descent in a room on their own to talk through issues that affect them directly in their Scottish/African lives and the challenges they face in Scotland.
“One girl said that no-one had ever spoken to her about FGM yet in her country, the prevalence is over 80% – it is really common. There is real possibility that she can now influence the conversation amongst young people here and ‘back home’ and that is what will lead to change.
“The girls say the project is helping them appreciate who they are and that they have an opportunity to influence their environment because before this, they have just been told what to do. Now they feel empowered. They have the skills to actually question things that happen to them and policies that affect them.”
Notre Dame head teacher Rosie Martin said the school was “delighted” to be involved in the “important study”.
She added: “All Glasgow schools have been engaging in staff training and awareness raising on FGM for a number of years, so the opportunity for Notre Dame’s young people to help develop and participate in the research was met with great enthusiasm from our pupils.”