FORWARD: A Charity Fighting For The Dignity And Equal Rights Of African Women & Girls

FORWARD  (Foundation for Women's Health Research and Development) is committed to gender equality and safeguarding the rights of African girls and women.

FORWARD is a vibrant, trusted organisation led by and for Africans – we are trail blazers who have been working for over 30 years towards ending female genital mutilation (FGM), child marriage and violence against women and girls. Our work links communities, organisations and governments in Africa, the UK and Europe. We believe in working respectfully with partners and using learning from our collective work and experiences to end violence against women and girls and ensure they reach their full potential.

Our Vision: We are working for the day when African girls and women will live in dignity, are healthy, have choices and enjoy equal rights free from fear of violence.

Our Approach: Our work champions African women’s rights on many fronts, from working with communities to bring about change, to equipping health, education and social care professionals to respond appropriately, from providing evidence for policymakers to holding politicians to account. Our expertise and experience at community, national and international levels makes us the trusted, go-to organisation for issues affecting African women in the UK and diaspora.

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FORWARD’s programmes use a holistic, participatory and rights-based approach. This means that we focus on the different needs of affected women and girls – such as education on rights and ways to advocate for them, available services and local support, as well as skills and opportunities to achieve economic independence.  It also means that our programmes are always shaped by insights from the community, – as well our understanding of the different factors (political, economic, and social) affecting the everyday experiences of African women and girls.

“We are no longer considered as a burden to parents or as beggars and loiterers in the community, as we are now operating small businesses like tailoring, selling charcoal, selling second-hand clothing and are even seen as a mirror of success in our society. We are valued as comparable to other children who have not faced the same plight and are seen as economically productive and respectable members of society. We are regarded as role models to the young ones and have increased our self-esteem.” - Young woman, Tanzania project

We continue our work to support migrant African women and girls affected, or at-risk of female genital mutilation and other forms of gender-based violence. Our activities are designed to give support and advice from our team of experts.  We provide signposting to services offered by our partners; training and advocacy in communities; schools training and youth engagement; training and support for frontline professionals. Including health and social services, legal, law enforcement, academic institutions and non-profits.  

We engage directly with women and men in FGM affected communities to raise awareness of the risks of FGM. We support them through training and confidence building – enabling them to advocate for change in their communities.  In the UK we provide support for women affected by FGM and multiple forms of violence, through one-to-one counselling sessions, we run a legal clinic with Garden Court Chambers and infringement providing advice on FGM and the law, family law and violence against women and girls.

We run monthly coffee mornings for African diaspora women, a safe space for women to share their experiences with other women, to receive support and training which the women themselves choose, for example we will run a training on the mental health aspects of FGM, we have provided para counselling training enabling the women to reach out to other women in their communities.

We discuss important topics – including FGM, mental health, domestic violence, reproductive health and family law.

Topics discussed are based on suggestions and outcomes from group discussions, such as:

  • The impact of domestic violence on children’s mental health

  • Dynamics between genders in the community

  • Intergenerational relationships

  • A woman’s ‘value’ in the family, home and community

  • Sex and sexuality

We provide accredited (CPD and OCN) professional training to Informed by our experience engaging with at-risk communities, our certified training programmes are designed to support frontline professionals responding to FGM and other forms of violence against women and girls. Using a participatory approach, the training raises awareness of the environment these harmful practices occur, and the physical, emotional and psychosocial impact on women and girls and the laws set in place to protect them. We build their skills and confidence to effectively identify, respond to, safeguard and support at-risk individuals or groups.

Our programmes address current harmful practices including FGM, Child and Forced Marriage, Domestic Abuse and honour based violence. 

We continue to train health professionals, social services, education and legal professionals, law enforcement, local authorities and community members. We have trained NSPCC helpline workers, the Police, UNISON members and staff, many London Boroughs, Universities and more.

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Our multi -award-winning UK Schools Programme which is delivered by FORWARD’s experienced facilitators provides a comprehensive, and wide range of age appropriate services and activities for primary and secondary schools; and higher education institutions. Since 2013, we have reached over 35,000 young people.

Our services are designed to support students and their parents, educators and external organisations working with schools to understand the key issues that affect girls from affected communities. We have a youth advisory council who advise on all areas of our youth work in the UK and run a monthly young women’s hub event, a safe space open to all BAMER women.

We have projects across Europe, in Africa (Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Somaliland, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone and Ghana) working on child marriage, FGM and broader issues of violence against women and girls, including a recent project on sexual harassment in higher education. We highlight the issue of the child motherhood as child pregnancy is a significant public health concern in many of the countries we work in. For example in Tanzania a high proportion of pregnancies among girls aged 15- 19 years are due to a lack of choices and control over their own bodies. Young and child mothers often experience multiple forms of discrimination such as obstetric fistula, social stigma, school exclusion and economic dependency, which leave them more vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence. FORWARD believes that we can make child mothers count by - Empowering them to be leaders who can influence and shape decisions about their rights and entitlements - Providing child mothers with safe spaces to build life skills and economic opportunities - Supporting their education and training to improve their own lives and the lives of their children.

 What are we fundraising for?

We are currently fundraising for two main areas of our work which are highly underfunded, in the UK we are seeking support to provide more counselling sessions for women affected by FGM and multiple forms of violence. Currently we have a waiting list and are unable to meet the demand due to lack of funds.

We are also fundraising for a project with child mothers in Ethiopia, we are aiming to provide business training and a start-up fund so that the young women can be financially independent and support their children. We aim to build on an initiative that creates a network of women and girls who have been affected by child marriage, to reach out and support other girls who may be at risk of the same.

£3,000 will support 14 girls who have been affected by child marriage and motherhood through leadership and confidence building training to become network members. £10,000 would enable us to reach 25 girls, we will also provide business training and a start-up fund so that the women can be financially independent and support their children. We expect the women to reach out to a further 600 girls at risk in their community, and their savings will be matched at the end of 12 months.

What will be talking about at the Think Tank on 3rd April with VERVE?

“FGM is an issue only affecting Muslims”

“Women affected by FGM don’t enjoy sex”

“All women affected by FGM suffer in the same way”

“FGM is only an African issue”

“FGM is not happening in the UK”

“They are cruel and barbaric people”

These are some of the myths around FGM in the UK, and are the common themes in the media. As an African women led organisation working both in the UK and in Africa and for over 30 years we want to share with you the complexities of the issue of FGM, and to answer all your questions and debunk the above myths. We hope to also briefly share some stories from our work in Africa on the issue of child marriage and also share stories of the multiple forms of violence that the women and girls we work with face.

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Article by FORWARD Communications and Events Manager Naomi Reid