Speaking in Oslo on World Contraception Day 2017 at the launch of IPPF report, ‘Under-served and Over-looked: Prioritising contraceptive equity for the poorest and most marginalised women and girls”, Julia Lalla-Maharajh OBE discussed the impacts of gender-based violence, including female genital cutting (FGC), on access to family planning services. She spoke about what needs to be done globally to empower those living in hard-to-reach communities to access the services they need, and promote the sexual and reproductive health rights of women and girls everywhere.
Read Julia’s abridged speech below.
“Orchid Project is working for a world free from female genital cutting. It’s particularly important to be on this platform today because I want to bring to life the fact that it doesn’t matter what part of SRHR you’re working on, fundamentally we’re all talking about the same girl. Sometimes we can all get caught up in a narrow focus, and we can forget the girl that is at the heart of this discussion.
“As I’m sure you’re aware, 3.6 million girls are at risk of being cut every year. 200 million women are living with the impacts of being cut, and the average age a girl is cut at is under 5 years old. Orchid Project is working with partners in Kenya, in Somalia, with Edna Adan in Somaliland, Tanzania, Senegal, Mali and India.
“To comment a little on the report, not only is this the same girl we’re talking about, but we’re talking about the same issues. We’re talking about a massively growing, young population that is affected. We’re talking about those in very hard to reach areas, often rural. We’re also talking about those who’ve obviously undergone gender-based violence.
“Once a girl is cut, she is set on a path that dictates the rest of her life. She will be cut in order to control her sexuality, but also to ensure she can be married, often early. That will often lead into early pregnancy. So the fact that we’re all working with the same girl or adolescent woman in mind, reminds me that we are all here working on a much wider issue. I’m so delighted that Orchid Project is a small, but perfectly formed, member of She Decides as well. It’s been a wonderful coming together in this very difficult time, I think, to remind us that while we’re all working individually there’s a broad sense of activities that we all must work on.
“The other thing I wanted to comment on is the interventions [discussed in the report] which are incredibly pragmatic and practical. I wanted to remind us that for example in Orchid’s work, if we cannot work at the level of the individual girl or woman reaching her own agency, her own empowerment, her own decision making, very few other interventions about access [to family planning] will work. If that girl doesn’t feel she has the right to seek health or healthcare advice; at the very basic level we’ve failed.
“I was very heartened to see that the report talks about cultural norms. Unless we shift at the community level [around] gender norms and social norms, we can keep making provision, but until girls feel they have an ability to leave their home and ask for that provision, we need to do more. I think we need to all be aware of what we need to do to help girls access education around family planning before we get to the provision and access stage.
“A quick shout out to my great grandmother. In the 1880s she was in Trinidad. She gave birth to 22 children, 11 of whom survived beyond the age of 5. Fast forward 100 years to me in the 1980s being sexually active in London. I can say the first 20 years of my sexually active life was really one of shame in every conversation I had, whether it was a discussion with a partner or with a doctor. It’s only now that I’m 47, when I’m in least need of contraception in my life, that I feel confident. And that’s in the global north.
“Shifting that shame and social stigma at community level through gender norm shift is hugely important, but I’m so heartened that fundamentally we’re all here to champion and walk hand-in-hand with the same goal, so thank you so much for the leadership from Norad – it’s fantastic. Thank you.”
This speech was given, at Norad’s Head Quarters in Oslo, Norway, where Julia spoke alongside Norway’s State Secretary Tone Skogen, UNFPA, Director Nordic Office, Pernille Fenger, Santos Simione, Director of AMODEFA Family Planning Association Mozambique (IPPF) and Norad’s Director General, Jon Lomøy.
With Orchid Project’s work in advocacy, communications and with partners around the world, thousands of communities are abandoning FGC. Find out more >