The work of an Oak Park nonprofit was recently highlighted in a 2½-minute film produced as part of Michelle Obama's Global Girls Alliance, an initiative of the Obama Foundation. The film debuted on a variety of social media platforms, including YouTube, last month.
The film profiles Rebecca, a Kenyan mother who underwent female genital mutilation at the age of 12. Long considered a rite of passage in some cultures, the procedure involves cutting the external genitalia and is believed to "purify" young girls, readying them for marriage and traditional wifely responsibilities.
Young women are often pressured to undergo the ritual and, in the film, the viewer finds Rebecca explaining the social pressures that factor into a young girl's perception of the ritual.
"I was afraid if I didn't, I would be an outcast," she says.
Female genital mutilation (FGM), however, is dangerous and has generated a backlash among members of the very cultures that esteem the practice. When Sara was "cut," her father, anticipating marriage, stopped paying her school fees.
Enter the Oak Park-based Women's Global Education Project, which has helped nourish the indigenous struggle against female genital mutilation by offering alternatives that might dull the incentives and disincentives that accompany the ritual.
"We have been doing this for 10 years and we work with a host country partner organization, Kenyan people living and working in that community, who have already decided that they think this is harmful," said Amy Maglio, the founder and executive director of Women's Global Education Project, during a recent interview.
Maglio's nonprofit offers community members weekly school visits, mobile libraries, computer labs, adult literacy programs and scholarships. The organization's Alternative Rites of Passage program provides families a safe alternative to genital mutilation for celebrating a girl's becoming a woman.
"It's not me coming in from the outside saying, 'Don't cut,' but people from their culture saying, 'This is harmful,'" Maglio said. "So they've started this really grassroots, community conversation around the harmful effects of FGM. The first couple of years, all we did was talk about the issue."
Last spring, Maglio said, the nonprofit was contacted by the Obama Foundation to participate in its Global Girls Alliance — an initiative designed to help some of the estimated 98 million adolescent young women around the world who aren't in school.
Maglio said she was present at the Alliance's launch on the Today Show and even got a chance to meet former first lady Michelle Obama. The short film featuring Rebecca, which debuted on Feb. 6 — designated the Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation — was one of five produced for the Global Girls Alliance.
In addition to the film, the Oak Park nonprofit was also added to the Global Girls Alliance website, which features a crowdfunding platform allowing users to donate to the various organizations that are part of the Alliance.
"We can make a difference by helping women and girls around the world and it doesn't take a lot," Maglio said. "There's room for everyone to get involved."
To watch Rebecca's story on YouTube, type "#EndFGM Rebecca's Story" in the search box. For more info on Women's Global Education Project, visit: womensglobal.org. For more info on the Global Girls Alliance, visit: www.obama.org/globalgirlsalliance/.
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