Author: Shauna

Savera UK Youth launches #ENDFGM Exhibition at Liverpool International Slavery Museum

The #ENDFGM Exhibition was created by Savera UK Youth and is intended to help people learn about the issue of female genital mutilation (FGM). Attending the exhibition is not only a matter of curiosity but, it could potentially save lives. Our event provides insight into this matter by illustrating the issue through the various exhibits that are on display. It also gives a good indication of the current impact of FGM and what action is necessary for a brighter future. The hope for the #ENDFGM Exhibition is to encourage individuals to contribute by, for example, sharing a post on social media or by joining our campaign to eradicate harmful practices like FGM.

The exhibition was set up for UK Parliament Week in November 2019, in order to bring attention to harmful practices, particularly FGM. We are grateful to the International Slavery Museum and Merseyside PCC Emily Spurrell, for supporting Savera UK Youth in allowing us to spotlight our message as we mark International Zero Tolerance Day for FGM 2022 (Sunday, 6th February).

So, what is female genital mutilation (FGM)?

FGM is a procedure that involves the total or partial removal of the female genitalia for non-medical reasons. FGM causes injury to the female genital organs and has no health benefits; additionally, it can cause major psychological trauma.

The person carrying out the procedure often is not medically trained and does not use sterilised equipment. It is also important to note that often times the people close to the person receiving the procedure, family and/or community, are regrettably involved.

What is the aim of the #ENDFGM Exhibition?

This exhibition is incredibly important in informing people about what FGM involves and the effects it can have. Using a combination of visual imagery and written pieces was imperative for us as the use of a variety of methods is useful when trying to portray a message to a large and varied group of people, as different individuals have different ways of learning.

The Exhibition will be on display between Friday, 4th February and Sunday, 27th February 2022

How do you expect people to campaign against an issue they are unaware of? That’s the question that came to our minds when trying to lay the groundwork for the Savera UK Youth campaign to #ENDFGM. Knowledge is one of the most valuable things we have in our society as without shining a light on a topic it is very difficult to get people involved, and the support of the general public is vital for us to accomplish our goal to permanently eradicate FGM.

The exhibition was created after Savera UK Youth worked with photographer Andrew ‘AB’ Abrahamson to learn valuable photography skills and members also wrote poetry and created stop-motion animation videos after sessions with artist Joanne Tremarco and poet and Savera UK survivor ambassador Kiara Mohamed (learn more about these workshops here).

About the exhibition, a member of the Savera UK Youth Advisory Board said: “It is unbelievable how far we have come with this exhibition, to think that it began with the National FGM Centre. During the years, my knowledge around harmful practices has improved, and we have had the opportunity to express this through poetry, performances and photography.

“Those pieces of art have been created with the hope to inspire and encourage others to acknowledge those practises, using a different approach, as we are aiming to raise awareness among young people. We strongly believe that using art to do so is more powerful than just words, helping us to convey our message and encourage others to join us into our journey of speaking out.”

We hope you join us in our endeavour to #ENDFGM and learn more by visiting the #ENDFGM Exhibition at the International Slavery Museum, where it will be on display between Friday, 4th February and Sunday, 27th February 2022.

Written by Elias Folarin, Savera UK Youth Advisory Board

Join Savera UK Youth

Savera UK Youth is recruiting volunteers!

We’re recruiting!

Savera UK Youth is looking for volunteers aged 11-25 who are passionate about making change.

With Savera UK Youth you will play an important role in raising awareness of ‘honour’-based abuse, female genital mutilation, forced marriage and other harmful practices through a variety of projects, campaigns and events.

We support our team by helping develop their existing skills and gain new ones as they speak out about these issues alongside us.

Some of the projects our dedicated team of young people have previously managed are; a conference with guest panellists including Savera UK Patron Nazir Afzal OBE and Savera UK Youth celebrity ambassador Maya Jama, a Question Time event with a panel of guests and an exhibition centred around raising awareness on how we can #EndFGM.

The future generation is the key to ending these practices and the work the young people does is helping to raise awareness about these hidden practices.

You can become involved in Savera UK Youth either as a Savera UK Youth volunteer, or as a member of the Youth Advisory Board (YAB).

Savera UK Youth Volunteers

As a Savera UK Youth volunteer you are invited to take part in projects which can help you develop important skills for all young activists including public speaking, writing and organisation. We also welcome our Savera UK Youth members to share their own expertise and skills to help in the fight to eradicate harmful practices.

Youth Advisory Board

Savera UK Youth FGM Exhibition

Savera UK’s Youth Advisory Board (YAB) is a team of between eight and 10 young people who are the decision makers and project leaders within Savera UK Youth. They attend monthly meetings and bring life to each project and campaign, working together to deliver performances, events and to think up new ideas on how we can better raise awareness and continue to work to eradicate ‘honour’-based abuse and other harmful practices.

The YAB provide a valuable youth perspective to Savera UK and regularly report to the Savera UK board. As a member of the YAB you will learn and develop valuable skills in leadership while advocating for a cause you are passionate about.

You can read the Savera UK YAB Brief 2022

If you would like to become a member of either Savera UK Youth or the YAB, complete the relevant form below and send it to [email protected].

For more information or if you would like to speak to a member of the team about joining, email [email protected].

Please note the deadline for applications is 12pm Friday, 15th April 2022.

Savera UK Youth: An Interview with Naila Amin

“They thought I was crazy when I said I was married.”

January 5th, 2005. The day when Naila Amin’s life was cruelly snatched. Her innocence wrenched by the very people who should have protected her.

The structure of Asian weddings means months of preparation results in weeks of various different functions and parties. Day after day, Naila was paraded in front of relatives and friends who had travelled from afar; she was given gifts of gold and money from beaming relations who wished her and her new husband well.

At the time of her marriage, Naila was only fifteen years old.

Naila comes from the Pashtun region of Pakistan and immigrated with her family to Queens, New York at the age of four. The particular tribe that Naila comes from is extremely patriarchal and women are treated like- in her words- “garbage”.

“Life dramatically changed for me,” Naila says as we conduct our interview over Zoom. After living in the US for four years, Naila was taken back to Pakistan for a cousin’s wedding. Whilst she was there, she found out that she was going to be married to another cousin who was 13 years her senior. Before this discovery, Naila had called him Lala, a term of endearment used for an older brother in Pashto, unknowing that he would soon become her husband.

Although the physical wedding ceremony had not taken place, Naila’s marriage papers had been signed and these were sent to the United States Immigration Service to allow her husband to enter the country. Currently, in the United States, a person of any age can sponsor an individual using a spousal visa. Naila is in the process of creating a federal bill to challenge this irrational law. Upon returning to the States, the union meant little to Naila until she found she had a schoolgirl crush on a Greek boy in her class. 

Young Naila Amin
Young Naila Amin

“I had a stamp on me, I belonged to someone,” she says, as she explains the awful realisation she had when it dawned upon her she had been promised to a person; she was not love in with. However, she knew the prospect of being with anyone else was imaginary, she was trapped.

Despite this, when Naila was in the ninth grade, her parents found out she was dating a Spanish boy. “They lost it,” she says. “When the social workers saw my bruises, they told my parents that they would take me away.”

In Naila’s parents’ eyes, she had committed zinnah, the Arabic term for adultery as she was already married. Through the glass doors, as she saw her parents leaving Baldwin High School in handcuffs, Naila knew it would be a memory that would be too powerful to leave her.

Placed into foster care, Naila struggled due to a lack of cultural competency and no understanding of the abuse she was facing from her parents.

“They thought I was crazy when I said I was married,” Naila says, as she recounts the hardships she endured; no other child was like her, and it became apparent that Child Protective Services did not know how to handle the case.

The most poignant memory of her time in care was the Trader Joe’s pizza she ate for six months, a minor issue in the eyes of some, but the absence of any ethnic proficiency and the lack of halal food meant it was all she could have.

“I was the first Asian American child in foster care in Nassau County, and probably in New York at the time,” says Naila. The lack of understanding affected her deeply. After being placed in a group home, Naila struggled with the rules and ran away continuously over the month she was there. Angry and upset, Naila returned home, desperate to make things work with her parents, who suggested she go to Pakistan and age out of the system. When she was 18, the law would have no jurisdiction over her. “I got on a plane on October 14th, 2004. Little did I know it was the child marriage trap,” she says.

Naila on her wedding day
Naila on her wedding day
Naila on her wedding day
Naila on her wedding day

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Naila travelled to Pakistan to attend the forced marriage of her older brother. Three months later, she too was married.

Having turned 15 in Pakistan, Naila was taken shopping for a lengha, the traditional Asian bridal wear. Whilst sitting in the bazaar, thoughts came rushing back and fragments began to fall into place.

“Naila your wedding is in a week,” her mother said to her as they were leafing through dresses.

Nearly all of Naila’s relations had been entered into forced marriages, it was the done thing. But she knew that this was not what she wanted. Nevertheless, it was nearly impossible to escape from her village. She knew that the consummation of her marriage would need to take place; and the thought of a man touching her paralysed her with fear.

Feeling truly alone, Naila was desperate to escape. On the tenth day of her marriage, she wanted out. But with no passport, she turned to the streets of her village. As she tore through the winding alleys, she came across a small mud hut in which was a woman and her family. Naila begged her son for a horse and carriage and was taken to a bus station. At this point, the Taliban were roaming free and the threat of abduction or even murder had become all the more real. Trying to book a hotel room in early 21st century Pakistan was easier said than done, and they refused Naila a room because she was an unaccompanied female without a national identity card.

The scent of freshly fried pakoras and bustling streets shrouded Naila as she frantically sought a way out of her situation. The hours ticked by slowly and gradually, Naila knew she would have to seek help from a relative. The image of one of her younger uncles sprang into her mind; he was a lot younger than the rest of her male relatives and perhaps he could help her. Having called her uncle who agreed to help her sort out the issues, a horrific realisation occurred.

“I thought to myself, they are going to kill me.” Naila says.

Naila had run away from her marriage, an act which brought shame on her deeply traditional family and thus she knew there would be repercussions. She ordered her uncle to call her Child Protection Officer if she was killed and tell her what had happened.

“I was ready to die,” Naila admitted. The industrial city of Attock was busy and alive with life, but at that moment, a young girl was contemplating her own life’s end. In that moment, Naila wondered if the bullets would hurt.

Would they burn? What will it feel like?

When she returned with her cousins, the anger her father felt meant he had to be locked in a room with his loaded pistol, whilst Naila was dragged from one part of the house to another. Whipped and humiliated in front of her entire family, the scars of her torment never healed.

That night, Naila was raped by her husband.

The very next day, her husband forced her to apply make-up and paraded her in front of relatives and friends at various functions. Naila knew she had to get out.

A plan began to formulate in her head quickly. If she could access her case worker, then perhaps, there would be a small possibility that she could be rescued. One day, after yet another barbaric beating, Naila swiftly made a phone call using a number she had memorised.

Waiting for what felt like an eternity, Naila was at yet another marriage function when the long awaited call arrived from her mother-in-law. She told Naila that there were some white people in the village looking for her.

The US Consulate officials had arrived with a Pashtun translator. After her husband had been ushered out to get a glass of water, Naila quickly detailed the abuse she had been delivered at the hands of her so called ‘husband’. The female agent stated that they could not remove her immediately as she was legally married, however help would be on its way.

Back in America, on March 7th, 2005, Naila’s mother was arrested as Naila had not been attending school. Infuriated that his wife was in jail, Naila’s father ordered her and her husband to get on the next available flight so her mother could be released.

A week later, the plane touched down in JFK airport. As Naila pulled on her jeans, her name was called out over the PA system. A group of around 30 border force, social workers, homeland security members and FBI agents greeted her as she walked down the steps back on to American soil.

After nearly a year of being abused, dehumanised and mistreated, the wait was over. Life would never be the same for Naila, but those few seconds before she was taken to be searched, Naila knew that she was finally home.

A short article such as this cannot do justice to Naila Amin’s story. The woman sitting across from me through a screen is a fighter. She will never be a victim. She emerged from the flames stronger. And although the scars will never fully heal, Naila is living proof that survival is possible.

You just have to believe.

Naila Amin
Naila Amin, Founder of the Naila Amin Foundation

Naila has set up her own foundation and you can learn more about it here. She also has a petition currently running to end child marriage in her home state of New York which you can sign here. To prevent girls like her from ending up in a care home which lacks understanding, Naila aims to create the first group home catering for honour based abuse and forced marriage; donations are appreciated and can be sent here.

You can watch the full interview with Maryam Rana and Naila Amin:

Written by Maryam Rana, Savera UK Youth Advisory Board

Savera UK Youth Questions Community Leaders

On the evening of 3rd March 2021, Sarah Everard was walking home from a friend’s home in South London. The last CCTV footage depicted her journey along a main road. Her death sparked a national outcry when a police officer was arrested on suspicion of murder. Protests were held up and down the country to show solidarity with every victim of femicide, but also to highlight the increasing problem of violence against women, the cases of which have been steadily increasing by about 10% each year.

Savera UK Youth held a panel discussion alongside faith leaders and community representatives to talk about the violence and abuse directed towards women in Britain, and to discuss why culture and religion are often used to justify violence towards women. Each of our panellists came from very different backgrounds, but it allowed us to cultivate varied conversations.

The panel opened with a question about young girls who felt unsafe and what could be done to ensure that within their communities, the risk of harm and violence was minimised. Coincidentally, Ofsted had released a report prior to the discussion which stated that girls within schools were now subjected to such high levels of sexual harassment that it had become normalised for educational institutes. Ofsted collected testimony from schoolgirls across the country and found that 90% of girls were subjected to harassment. Many of the panellists agreed that education was paramount to ensuring that the toxic culture was removed in schools and the wider community.

Education appeared several times during the discussion as it became apparent that tackling violence amongst communities had to start from a young age. One of the panellists described how because perpetrators of violence often have grown up in abusive homes, they become conditioned to think that the behaviour is acceptable. As much as girls need to be educated about the risks they face, boys from a young age should be taught how to treat women. Several speakers agreed that schools face an important role in the nurturing of a child, and their position means they need to be well equipped to teach children about the issue of violence.

“We need to look at our curriculum, within RSE to start teaching young people about this [harmful practices and gender-based violence], not just high school, it needs to go to primary schools as well.” Rabnawaz Akbar, a Labour councillor and one of the panellists stressed the importance of the inclusion of harmful practices to educate children from a young age.

A survey conducted after the murder of Sarah Everard showed that almost 97% of women in Britain have experienced some form of sexual harassment directed to them by a male. The number seems incredibly shocking, but as one of our panellists pointed out, it may well be higher. The issue of victim-blaming remains prevalent amongst survivors of violence; thus, leading to some women reluctant to speak out for fear of being judged.

The discussion also highlighted certain minorities such as the LGBTQI+ group and individuals who are part of the BAME community. As our panellist, Kieran Bohan, Co-ordinator at Open Table stated, minority groups are greatly affected with a lot of the abuse stemming from misogyny. The hashtag ‘#NotAllMen’ which began circulating after the death of Sarah Everard was used to show that not every male is a perpetrator. However, as Kieran mentioned, everyone needs to be a voice for change. “Men need to challenge other men – it’s not all men, but the men who are not perpetrators need to be part of the solution by calling out the attitudes which are abusive and violent.”

The role that these community leaders and representatives play in society is huge and their presence on the panel ensured that we were receiving answers from those who understood the problem in detail.

On International Women’s Day, MP Jess Phillips read out a list of names in Parliament. The names were women who had been ‘killed by male violence’. It was a poignant reminder that the epidemic of femicide remains in Britain. As our CEO, Afrah Qassim pointed out “This is nothing to do with women’s issues – it’s about abuse and violence and that is something all genders need to challenge.” It is vital that this behaviour is challenged to ensure that women are protected in the society of which they are part of.

We would like to thank the panellists and attendees for making the event an opportunity for learning and discussion. Everyone has a part to play in the eradication of violence towards women and girls, and that change needs to start now.

Written by Maryam Rana, Chair of the Savera UK Youth Advisory Board

EVENT | Question Time with Savera UK Youth

Date: Thursday 10th June 2021
Time: 5pm
Location: Online, registration essential
Tickets: FREE

In light of recent events, including the violent deaths of Sarah Everard, Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, Savera UK Youth and other young activists, will put their questions to a panel of community leaders and representatives.

The panel will include:

  • Merseyside Police and Crime Commissioner, Emily Spurrell
  • Labour MP Kim Johnson
  • Tracey Gore, Chair of Liverpool’s Race Equality Task Force
  • David Derefaka, a BME Community Development Officer working in  St Helens
  • Manchester Cllr Rabnawaz Akbar
  • Kieran Bohan, Coordinator, Open Table Network
  • Afrah Qassim, CEO & Founder of Savera UK.

The event will be chaired by Gamiel Yafai, Managing Director of Diversity Marketplace and diversity and inclusion lead.

The evening will include a discussion on the impact that the issue of violence and abuse has on the community and our youth, as well as how local groups and communities are working towards eradicating them.

Key questions will come from young people and have the opportunity to submit questions ahead of the event. There will also be an opportunity for attendees to ask further questions in a Q&A session.

We intend this online event to be a group discussion, therefore this will be delivered as a Zoom video call rather than in webinar format. This means you’ll be able to keep your camera on if you wish.

Savera UK aims to make events as accessible as possible. If you require reasonable adjustments to access this online event, then please contact us one week before the event so that actions can be taken to support you. 

Register 

Save the Date: Question Time with Savera UK Youth

Date: Thursday 10th June

Time: 5pm – 7pm

Location: Online, registration essential

In light of recent events, including the violent deaths of Sarah Everard, Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman. Savera UK Youth is hosting a ‘question time’ style event for community leaders and representatives to discuss the work being done to address the issues of violence and abuse, which can impact the community and our youth, as well as how local communities are working towards eradicating these issues.

The event will be hosted by Savera UK Youth and all questions will be sourced from young people. There will also be an opportunity for attendees to ask further questions in a Q&A session.

Click to RSVP

Mental Health Awareness Week 2021: Shining a Light on Harmful Practices

Over the past year, 68% of young people have seen their mental health deteriorate due to the lockdown and restrictions imposed to tackle the  COVID-19 pandemic. Not only have schools, colleges and universities been closed, basic freedoms such as meeting friends and family, or going out for a coffee have been removed. 

It is evident from a study completed by the charity Mind that these restrictions have negatively impacted the psychological wellbeing of millions of young people. Alongside the uncertainty with examinations and future career plans, Generation Z (those born between 1997 and 2015) has been plunged into crisis after crisis during the course of the pandemic. 

However this Mental Health Awareness Week, Savera UK Youth has chosen to focus not on youth mental health post-COVID, but the long-term psychological impacts that harmful practices have on the lives of those affected.

Various studies show that harmful practices such as forced marriage negatively impact a person’s mental health in almost all cases. 

Indeed, when Savera UK Youth member Maryam interviewed forced marriage survivor, Naila Amin, about her experience, she said: “’I just wanted to get it over with, I was ready to die. Now you know why I have anxiety now.”

Most people subjected to harmful practices experience horrifying amounts of domestic violence, ranging from sexual to physical abuse. Rape is also commonplace in various forced marriages. Of the estimated 20,000 rape cases that take place each year in Britain, there is one person behind each case who is forever subjected to a life of psychological torment. 

Many survivors struggle with sex and relationships later on in life and with only 3.3% of rape cases resulting in a conviction, survivors often have to live with the knowledge that their rapist is free.

In March, the government announced a £500 million Mental Health Recovery Plan, with an additional £38 million funding for talking therapies within the NHS. This is a hugely positive step, yet similar levels of funding are not being found for those at risk of harmful practices, which is why we are shining a light on the issues this Mental Health Awareness Week. Harmful practices can destroy a person’s life and mental wellbeing. Without adequate support, some may never recover.

Written by Maryam Rana, Chair of Savera UK Youth (from April 2021)

The hidden pandemic: Female Genital Mutilation

As we know too well, the COVID-19 pandemic has kept us all indoors for many months now. For some, this has allowed them to learn new skills, find new passions and spend time with loved ones. Sadly, this hasn’t been the case for everyone, with many people spending lockdown in home environments that are unsafe for them. For example, during this time, authorities and charities like Savera UK have seen an increase in the amount of cases of FGM reported. These increases have been reported as a worldwide problem, with the UNFPA estimating an extra 2 million cases of FGM having occurred during the lockdown, that otherwise would not have.

What is FGM?

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), also known as ‘cutting’ or ‘female circumcision’, is defined as any procedure that involves the partial or total removal of external parts of the female genitalia, without any medical reason for doing so. This procedure often impacts the future physical and mental health of the FGM survivor

Why has COVID-19 impacted rates of FGM?

The spread of COVID-19 has forced countries into lockdown restrictions and seen schools closing globally, which has caused an increase in the reported cases of human rights abuses. Going into lockdown has meant that girls have stayed at home rather than going to school or college, and therefore have been more vulnerable to FGM. Without going to school or non-essential hospital appointments, there is less chance of anyone outside of the family who will recognise the signs of trauma or that the cutting has taken place. Additionally, the closure of schools means that ‘cutting season’ is prolonged. 

Although in some parts of Africa FGM has been outlawed, it has begun to carry it out again because, during this difficult time, it is seen as a way to ‘obtain income’. This is because some believe that females must have the procedure in order for them to get married. Families are more likely to marry off a daughter in difficult times. 

Where does FGM take place and who does it affect?

Since the start of the pandemic, there has been very little acknowledgment of how it is specifically affecting FGM.

The majority of reports worldwide are covering COVID-19, leaving little support for the girls who are being forced to undergo this practice in their communities. A report from the Orchid project shows that there is an increase in the cases of FGM in East and West Africa as the new lockdowns are an opportunity to carry out the harmful practice.

Josephine Kulea, who is the founder and executive director of the Samburu’s Girl Foundation, reported that in Kenya, in 3 villages alone, more than 500 girls were subjected to FGM (and child marriage) in the months of March April, May June and July 2020 – when the lockdown was put in place and the rules were strict. According to the Five Foundation, based on reports from activists, between September and mid-October 2020 around 2,800 were subjected to the practice. Since schools began closing in March, cuttings have taken place earlier than expected as the school year usually finishes in November.

In Somalia, circumcisers have been going ‘door to door’ to carry out the procedure within communities, with nurses reporting an increase in parents wanting to get their daughter ‘cut’ while off school during the lockdown. 

FGM takes place worldwide and it happens a lot closer to home than you may think. A report in the Liverpool Echo in late 2020 revealed that doctors in the city had found almost 100 new cases of FGM in 2020 alone, with there being 3,005 newly reported FGM cases nationally in the UK during 2020. Sadly, FGM is usually carried out on the youngest girls in communities, with some girls getting cut at only a few months old. This often results in long-lasting mental and physical pain for the victims.

What can be done?

There has been a huge impact on those at risk of FGM but it does not have to be this way. Savera UK Youth is continuing to speak out against FGM for those who cannot and raise awareness of the practice to make sure survivors and vulnerable people get the help and support they need. To help make a change, we think there should be:

  • Access to mental health and legal support to help prevent cases of FGM. More effort should be put into ensuring this support is available to those who need it.
  • Action should be taken to include FGM in the response plans that have been made for COVID-19. This could include different forms of communication and support delivery, such as online services that would not be affected by COVID-19 restrictions. While creating these plans, it is important to include the opinions of an FGM survivor so they can speak for those at risk and make sure FGM is not overlooked.

What can you do to help?

  • Donate to charities that help raise awareness for FGM and support its’ victims, such as Savera UK
  • Volunteer with groups to keep the conversation going, help raise awareness of this practice and highlight pathways to help and support 
  • Write to your local MP encouraging them to raise the issue of the increase of FGM cases in Parliament
  • Look out for signs that FGM has happened or is about to. You can learn about the signs here
  • You can find more information about FGM, harmful practices, and where to get help and support below 

Contacts

Ring 999 if you or someone you know is in immediate danger of FGM or any other harmful practice.

  • 0800 107 0726 – Savera UK’s helpline. (9am-5pm from Mondays to Fridays) 
  • 0800 5999 247 – Karma Nirvana’s free helpline
  • 0808 2000 247 – Refuge’s domestic abuse helpline.

Useful Organisations and Websites 

Written by Hannah Gloudon and Kusqaum Adam

Savera UK Youth Participates in Global Youth Changemaker Event

On 19th December 2020, Savera UK Youth joined other young activists from across the world to speak out about the importance of youth action in an online event hosted by the organisation Scarlet Udaan. The live event aimed to highlight youth activism for gender equality and the influence that young people can have on making vital change.

Scarlet Udaan is a youth-based global awareness organisation that aims to raise awareness of female genital mutilation (FGM). The name of the organisation brings together the words ‘Scarlet’- a brilliant red colour which signifies the strength in one’s womanhood; and the word ‘Udaan’- a Hindi word which means ‘to soar’ or ‘to fly’, symbolising freedom and the limitless possibilities that exist for an individual. They imbibe the spirit of their name and hope for a world where the same power and freedom can exist within all women. 

The diverse team Scarlet Udaan team comprises people from different parts of the world ranging from the US, UK, Canada, India and many more. It hopes to bring awareness to FGM and the impact it has on the lives of females belonging to different communities all around the globe. 

Along with Savera UK Youth Advisory Board member Ayo, event speakers included: 

  • Julieta from Chile who is the founder of the TREMENDAS Collaborative Platform that promotes empowering girls, adolescents and young people
  • Selin from Turkey who is the youngest representative of UNWomen’s global gender equality movement HeForShe and the founder of the first Girl Up Club in Turkey
  • Nonya who founded SheFFA which is dedicated to advocating against FGM through conducting educational advocacy workshops 
  • Sakshi who is the Resource Mobilisation Executive at the Myna Mahila Foundation, a globally recognised organisation working on women’s health in slum communities in India

The inspirational panel discussed why they think it is important that young people fight for gender equality, what challenges they have faced in their activism and how they want to continue their work in the future.

Scarlet Udaan representative, Abi Reynolds, said about the event: “I thoroughly enjoyed organising the event, for it allowed me to engage with inspiring youth activists from around the world – India, the UK, Chile, and more. Their passion to strive for better is something we should all hold close to us and work towards, together. I cannot wait to see the change our wonderful speakers make in the future.”

Savera UK Youth member, Ayo, said: “The Scarlet Udaan event was an inspiration. It was so refreshing to be surrounded by other young people whose passion is to help others and raise their voices on topics that matter. 

“Listening to other young activists can encourage other young people to get involved, as they will believe ‘if others can do it, I can do it too’. Events like this also enable Savera UK Youth to engage with other organisations and create new worldwide campaigns that will gain more attention and shine a light on issues. We can only put an end to such issues and harmful practices if we are united.”

You can catch up on the event here and tune into the Scarlet Udaan podcast.

 

“They got me engaged at 11 years old and that was it – I was going to get married.”

Journalism student, Sakura Singh, chose to write about Savera UK for her portfolio. As part of the piece, Sakura speaks to CEO & Founder Afrah Qassim, a survivor of forced marriage and a Savera UK Youth representative.

Savera UK was set up in 2010 due to a lack of support in Merseyside and Cheshire, particularly around cultural issues such as forced marriage, ‘honour’-based abuse, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and other harmful practices.

It is the only organisation that offers face-to-face support on these issues in Merseyside and Cheshire as well as seeking to eradicate the issues.

In the beginning, Savera UK started dealing with forced marriage as there was a group of young women (aged 13-15) who were being coerced into marriage before finishing school. The young people accepted their family’s decision of an arranged marriage but wanted to finish school beforehand.

They wanted to be able to question and explore these more, but when they were trying to find someone or an organisation to talk to about marriage and culture but there were no services locally. The young women were linked with Afrah Qassim through their school mentor, who then worked in the NHS (Mental Health service) as a Community Development Worker (CDW), leading on Women, Children and young people focusing on Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities.

Afrah Qassim, Founder of Savera UK said, “People don’t seem to want to talk about it.

“I had identified this and found that there was a gap that could be met by setting up an organisation that engages with communities, raises and promotes the awareness to those who may be at risk.”

Afrah set up a multi-agency group and held the first-ever conference in Liverpool in 2008 focusing on forced marriage.

It was apparent, there were gaps and Savera was established to fill the need to tackle culturally-specific ‘honour’-based abuse and harmful practices.

Savera UK today is nationally recognised, tackling, campaigning and raising awareness on these issues and supporting anyone at risk of HBA regardless of age gender or ethnicity.

When Savera started up they focused on women and girls but then received a message from a male who was a victim of abuse by his partner and was asking if they supported men from these communities.

Unfortunately, some boys and men can be victims of these issues particularly within cultures that have beliefs around LGBT being considered a sin.

Afrah said, “abuse is abuse” and can affect anyone and men from those communities would be even more reluctant to seek help.

While Savera has helped lots of women, they face a constant battle as many at risk are very fearful about coming forward.

Afrah said: “We have had many who come and they want our support but they walk away in fear of their family and causing family issues and problems and also they don’t feel safe if they report it, what may happen to them and how will they be supported.

“I know someone who took 22 years before she finally asked for help and escaped her marriage when she felt her children had grown up and were dependent and she was able to move and wasn’t worried about what her family or community would say.”

Savera UK believes that the way to combat the problem is through continuing to educate and engage with communities and work together to stand and speak up against these horrific practices.

Savera supports their clients in a range of ways: attending them in court, sorting their benefits, settling them into a new area and familiarising them with it. If they have children, they will help look for schools, register them with GPs, but also, they will tell Savera what they need.

Savera’s support does not have a time restraint on it, people can leave when they feel happy and confident enough to do so, but then if a risk reoccurs, they are welcomed back to Savera.

One woman, who wished to remain anonymous, has told her story. The assistance she received has helped her leave her previous situation and start a new life, she reveals all the support she received from Savera on all kinds of levels from helping her understand public transport to help her apply for university.

I spoke to a survivor that was supported by Savera UK:

“I come from a background of an old school. Even though it’s the 21st century we’re still very old school it doesn’t really change, they got me engaged at 11 years old and that was it – I was going to get married. I kept saying no but it didn’t matter to them. I had enough and I wanted to leave, so I left.

“I was in my own little bubble for eight to nine years I didn’t know what was going on in the outside world and then when I left it was such a shock it was a culture shock let me tell you.

“I literally got on the train for the first time with Savera UK’s help – I didn’t know how to take the train before, they helped me out the entire time and called me and told me which stop to get off at, and who I had to talk to.

“They helped me with my education as I didn’t know what to do because if you’ve never done anything and suddenly you’ve got all the choices in the world it’s very daunting.

“You don’t need someone to tell you what is right and what you need to do but just help guide you into the decisions you might think are right for you with their help and support, so yes they’re brilliant.

“I didn’t leave a relationship, I left my family. It was scary, my background culture says ‘I can’t shame them’ but at the end of the day it’s your life and they’re not going to live it for you.”

Savera UK also has a Youth Board that was established as part of the Savera UK Youth programme. They want to raise awareness to young people, so they believe young people should be involved when doing this.

After speaking to a young person who is part of the youth board, he told me that they work on different projects, such as art projects which include writing poetry and taking photographs.

I asked Malcolm if these issues had been discussed with him in college, he said: “Not really, the only basic one that we have talked about would be domestic abuse but the rest of the harmful practices we don’t really talk about them.”

Malcolm said: “I volunteer in a youth centre mostly every day and I think most of the young people are not aware of all these harmful practices, maybe only domestic abuse but the rest of the harmful practices, for example, FGM none of them know anything about it.”

The youth board created a piece of theatre to educate people on FGM, explain to them what it is and why it is not allowed to be done and the pain it causes.

Savera UK provides training and educates young people by going into schools; they will perform their FGM performance to schools and youth centres they are invited to.

Written by Sakura Singh