From A Saviour To A changemaker: The Incredible Journey of Gambia’s Jaha Dukureh

At 15, a young Gambian girl found herself in New York city married to an older man. On her wedding night, she realized she had undergone FGM; it was the start of an awful feeling of a young, innocent girl. What was more overwhelming is that her marriage was arranged at just the age of 8. Surviving two practices widespread in Africa, Jaha Durkureh was driven to fight traditions long older than her. Driven by an unbroken passion for advocating for child’s rights across the globe, she eventually went from a saviour to a change marker.

Jaha Dukureh is a renowned Gambian women’s rights activist and anti-female genital mutilation campaigner. She has been at the forefront of advocating for girls in The Gambia and the globe at large.

The act of FGM and child marriage has been a concern in Africa for many years, which activists believe threatens girls’ health. According to UNICEF’S statistics, more than 130 million girls have experienced some form of FGM in 29 African countries and the middle east; more than 700million women alive today were married as children, more than one in three or some 250 million were married before the age of 15. Before the ban of FGM and child marriage in the Gambia, about 75% of girls undergo FGM, and 30% are married before 18.

Jaha’s promise—the fight that never stops!

Not many people will fight against a strongly believe tradition, but for Jaha Dukureh, nothing would stand between her and activism. She turned “a personal nightmare into activism.” Her activism journey can be trackback to 2013 when she founded the — safe hand girls—a non-profitable organization providing support for African women and children who underwent FGM. Back then, knowing nothing about running a non-profit organization—the Gambian activist—was guided by intense passion, a desire for change, and google to help her learn more.

Photo: African Leadership Magazine

After seeing a petition signed in the U.k leading authorities to set up guidelines to deal with FGM, Jaha was prompted to start a petition on change.org asking the then—Obama administration to commission a report on statistics on women in the United States impacted by FGM and the risks of being mutilated. The petition attracted more than 220,000 supporters leading the U.S government under the Obama administration to conduct an extensive study on female genital mutilation in the U.S.

Despite feeling “betrayed” and angry, Jaha never stopped fighting, especially when she saw the numbers of FGM still making headlines.

In 2017, Jaha’s Promise—was released, a feature film about her life, giving honest details on how she was cut and sewn as a baby. She also opened up about the medical procedures she went through after marriage with the help of a doctor in Manhattan.

Video: The Guardian

Directed by Patrick Farrelly, the 80 minutes long feature highlights how a campaign can make a difference in communities and how Jaha was determined to fight a tradition for decades.

Jaha Dukureh— champions education greatly, which she always gives credits to for her achievements. She is a master’s holder in Non-profit Management from the University of Central Florida and a bachelor’s holder in business administration and management general.

“If I didn’t have education, I had no possibility whatsoever to make it out of the situations that I’ve made it out of.” Said Jaha in a UFC Today publication ahead of her graduation in 2018.

The Nobel prize nominee—fight to end FGM and gives girls the life they cherish led to a never-ending fight—Jaha’s Promise. Back in the Gambia, her campaign helped influenced the ban of FGM in the West African country in 2015, which she termed as her most significant achievement.

From a saviour to a global leader

Jaha Dukureh has achieved a lot and inspired a generation of young girls, especially feminists and activists.
Her work has been celebrated all over the world, which led to many accolades. In 2016, Jaha was part of Time 100 list of the most influential people in the world. The following year, 2017, she was one of the 100 most Influential Africans by the new Africa magazine. She was also honored with the Human Rights Activist, Humanitarian of the year, at the seventh annual African Diaspora Awards. 1n 2018, she was one of the top 100 Gender Global Policy Influencers by Apolitical. Jaha is also a nominee for the prestigious Nobel peace prize. She became the first-ever UN Women Ambassador for Africa in 2018, a role meant to support UN Women’s advocacy to end FGM and child marriage in Africa.

She has brought together religious leaders, government officials, and veteran world activists to eliminate FGM and child marriage practices in societies, especially in Africa. This included the first-ever FGM conference in the Gambia and the 2019 Africa4Girls Summit, the first-ever pan African submit FGM and child marriage held in Dakar, Senegal.
The international spokesperson for the L’ Oreal Paris— received the Outstanding Alumni Visionary Award in March 2021 from Georgia Southwestern State University. The same university acknowledges Jaha for her exceptional “impact on the world and Georgia Southwestern State University by naming Room 203 after Jaha Dukureh. The ribbon-cutting will be held in December 2021.

We are proud of Jaha’s achievement and how she became a hope for girls, especially in Africa and the Gambia in particular. Share with us in the comment section your proudest moment of Jaha Dukurek; we will love to hear it!

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