Last year, Rosa funded a peer-mentoring programme at NESTAC (New Step for African Community), a non-profit organisation that supports African immigrants living in Greater Manchester, to challenge the practice of FGM within the community.
When NESTAC began its peer mentor training programme in 2015, funded by Rosa, the aim was to teach basic counselling skills, and a detailed overview of the physical and emotional side effects related to FGM, to around 30 women within Manchester’s African immigrant community. These skills would equip them to accompany social workers on home visits to families in areas identified as at high risk of practising FGM on their female family members. The peer mentors would play a crucial role in encouraging the families – in their native dialects, from a position of understanding their situation and cultural norms – to reconsider subjecting their daughters and sisters to FGM.
But as the programme took off, it became clear that a vital part of the process was missing. The project’s coordinator Peggy Mulongo realised that the men of the families visited by social services were in need of support as well – and that the barriers put up by fathers and husbands who felt left out of the discussion could be lowered by the introduction of male peer mentors.
“Culturally, men are seen as the head of the family. As a woman, I could be from that community but talking about such topics in front of men is a taboo,” she explains. “The best thing is to have a male peer mentor to contact the family first and prepare them [for a home visit], which was missing before. We need to look at the family as a whole.”
Enter Yusuf, who arrived in Manchester in February 2015 as an asylum seeker from Sierra Leone. He put himself forward to train as a peer mentor having attended a workshop to raise awareness about FGM at the NESTAC centre in Rochdale, where he had already been volunteering to aid the integration of other asylum seekers.
“Where I’m coming from, FGM is not a topic to be discussed, so I was very, very concerned about how the workshop was going to be run,” says Yusuf. “But when I saw the consequences of FGM, I said that to stop this, I have to be willing to be part of the campaign.” As a peer mentor, Yusuf engages with men of the African immigrant community on issues related to FGM, both at NESTAC’s centre and in conjunction with social workers carrying out home visits.
Broaching such a sensitive subject takes time, and requires Yusuf to invest in personal relationships with the men who visit NESTAC. “To some extent it’s really hard. The men can be very difficult to deal with,” Yusuf adds. But he’s held in high esteem by the men of the community, who are increasingly showing a willingness to engage with the issues surrounding FGM.
“I said to one of the guys, we have a leaflet about FGM, just take it home, look at it, read it, come up with your own ideas,” Yusuf recalls. “And funnily enough he came back the other day and said, I’ll organise a football competition and I will name it ‘kick FGM out of our community’. I said wow, that’s a good idea. People are willing, we just need to keep going.”