Confronting her past, her family, her culture, her religion, country and its leaders, Jaha Dukureh became a lightning-rod for change in The Gambia. Her tireless efforts contributed to the government ban on FGM and child marriage. Born in a small Gambian village in 1989, Jaha Dukureh was a victim of FGM at just one week old. Her arranged marriage to an unknown older man at age 15 brought her to New York City. After two months, Dukureh was able to get away from her abusive husband where she continued her education and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2015.
As a mother and a survivor of FGM and child marriage, Jaha believes that by coming together, we can end these practices within a generation and is dedicating her life to making that a reality. This vision led her to start Safe Hands for Girls; a survivor led U.S. based nonprofit organization against the practice of female genital mutilation and other harmful practices against women and girls. Jaha works at all levels to get the voices of women heard by walking with religious leaders in villages, along with survivors and world leaders.
With COVID-19 likely to exacerbate the existing vulnerabilities of women and girls in the Gambia, where 1 in 5 women experiences intimate partner violence and 1 in 3 girls is forced into child marriage, Jaha has expanded her call to action. According to the Secretary General of the UN, António Guterres, the impact of COVID-19 lockdowns and the related economic crisis is already being seen in a “horrifying global surge in domestic violence” directed towards women and girls. Under Jaha's leadership, Safe Hands for Girls started the first emergency basic income program for women to help them during the slow down of the economy. Currently they have reached more than 2,000 households and with the average household size of 9, they have directly touched more than 18,000 people during covid.
Jaha’s activist journey began as she gathered national grassroots support calling for the first U.S. survey to determine the prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation in America, garnering over 225,000 signatures. Her campaign was recognized by President Barack Obama, and received the backing from former UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, and members of Congress, including Senator Harry Reid, and Congressmen John Lewis and Joseph Crowley. She is the subject of 'Jaha's Promise,' a feature documentary film by The Guardian and Accidental Pictures that filmed her work as she returned to the Gambia to lead a successful campaign against the brutal practices that nearly destroyed her life. The film premiered at the United Nations in June of 2017, where she appeared on a panel and received a standing ovation.
Jaha's efforts have led to numerous recognitions and awards from communities, to presidents and royalty, like the Crown Princess of Denmark. She was named one of Time Magazine’s "100 Most Influential People in the World" in 2016, and in December 2017, The New African Magazine selected her as “One of the 100 most influential Africans’, and The New Africa Woman nominated her as "The Africa Woman on the Rise." In early February 2018, she was named the first UN Women Regional Goodwill Ambassador for Africa addressing FGM and Child Marriage and nominated for the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize by Norwegian politician Jette Christenssen. Jaha is a recipient of the 2018 Eleanor Roosevelt Medal of Honor, and was the honoree at the 2016 Make Equality Reality gala from Equality Now. She received the“Global Activist Award” at 2018 Women That Soar Awards, broadcast on television throughout the United States and globally streamed in March, 2019. In September of 2019, Jaha received the North-South Prize 2018 by the Council of Europe, recognizing her role in the fight to end female genital mutilation. The North-South Prize of the Council of Europe is awarded each year since 1995 to candidates who have stood out for their exceptional commitment to promoting North-South solidarity. The Award Ceremony took place in Lisbon, with the presence of the President of the Republic, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa.
In June 2019, Jaha successfully convened Africa4Girls Summit, the first ever pan-African Summit on ending Female Genital Mutilation and Child Marriages in Dakar, Senegal. The Summit was attended by 1,400 participants, and marks the first initiative bringing together leaders from all sectors - governments, religious leaders, traditional community leaders, alongside young civil society leaders, notably young women activists and survivors of FGM and child marriage. Ministers, UN leaders and Heads of State from 17 African governments attended the 3 day Summit. Religious leaders included the deputy Grand Imam of Al Azhar Institute, considered the leading authority on Islamic jurisprudence, as well as representatives from Christian and other faiths.
Another outcome of the Africa4Girls Summit, was the announcement of a Fatwa (a legal opinion on a point of Islamic law) against child marriage was proposed by deputy Grand Imam of Al Azhar Al Sharif, Dr Salah Abbas. The translated text of the Fatwa states that “The age of 18 marks the stage at which a woman can validly express her will to marry. This guarantees that she can enjoy her fundamental rights to childhood, education and the capacity to assume the responsibilities of marriage. Before that age, she will not have had access to those necessary rights and is not able to assume the responsibility of marriage; and God would not impose on His servants an obligation that they cannot fulfill.”
Jaha is also dedicating herself to supporting a new generation of activists as one of the founding members of The New Now, an independent not-for-profit organization standing alongside passionate rising leaders tackling the world’s toughest challenges. Their aim is to ensure that every rising leader’s voice is heard as they work together to inspire global youth leadership and create a stronger future for all of us.
Jaha speaks about her journey from being a survivor of FGM and child marriage to becoming a fierce advocate for the rights of some of the most marginalized and underserved women and girls in the world. Talking about her own experiences and those she has witnessed in the field, Jaha focuses on what she has learned about survivors, their vulnerability and ability to affect change in their own communities. Her emphasis is on seeing beyond the “victim,” to help women, especially those who have faced violence, to not be defined by those experiences and to successfully move forward. Her talks help those attending to become more effective agents of change in their own lives and communities; personally, locally and globally. She also presents talks on leadership and creating change and can tailor her content to meet the needs of your organization and event. She regularly receives standing ovations. A lecture/film program.
Jaha Dukureh, female genital mutilation (FGM) survivor activist, 'Time 100' honoree and founder of Safe Hands for Girls', introduced by Gloria Steinem
Jaha Dukureh underwent female genital mutilation as a baby in the Gambia, and is actively campaigning to end the practice around the world.
A film about Jaha Dukureh's journey from being a victim of FGM & forced childhood marriage to being one of Time's 100 Most Influential People.
On this prestigious panel in Egypt, in front of many of the leaders of Africa, Jaha addresses Egypt's President Sisi on supporting rights for women.
Speaking at the Griffonbell Lecture Series hosted by the University President
"From the moment Jaha Dukureh began to speak our young women were riveted. Her mission and her life has been dedicated to challenging a system of oppression for young women in Africa and her frankness, strength and message was a charge and a call to action that resonated with the audience. Jaha not only envisions a better world but provided concrete steps that people can take to support women and children . Her message was empowering for our next generation and for our staff. Jaha’s belief that one person can start a movement but with collective effort we can change the world left us feeling hopeful that we too could contribute to raising awareness and impact the practice of child marriage and female genital mutilation. It was an honor to spend time with her and we are deeply appreciative of her message!"
Michele B. Taylor, Dean of Student Leadership
St. Mary's Academy
The New York Times: "A Fight as U.S. Girl Face Genital Cutting Abroad," https://www.nytimes.com/2014/0...
"Jaha's Promise," FGM film premieres at Copenhagen film festival: https://www.theguardian.com/so...
"End Female Genital Mutilation in the US - Commission a prevalence report on women impacted and girls at risk." The Petitioning of the President Obama: https://www.change.org/p/end-f...