On 24th July 2018 Leyla Hussein went back to the University of West London (UWL) where she studied to become a qualified psychotherapist to receive an honorary doctorate in recognition for her work in this field and especially in developing therapeutic services for survivors of female genital mutilation (FGM). Leyla will take up a new role with the university in the autumn, sharing her expertise with aspiring psychologists and psychotherapists.
Leyla studied at University of West London (UWL) from 2006 to 2010 and has maintained close links regularly returning for guest lectures to inspire the next generation. Working with young people is a key part of her successful campaigning against FGM. Leyla has led work in the UK and internationally including presenting the ground-breaking BAFTA nominated documentary “The Cruel Cut”. She also founded the first specialist counselling service for FGM survivors, The Dahlia Project, and supporting women living with the effects of FGM remains a strong focus for her work. In partnership with The Girl Generation and Wallace Global Fund she is now developing emotional wellbeing support for activists working to end FGM.
After the graduation ceremony, we asked Leyla’s daughter Feyrus who attended the event with her to interview her Mum.
Feyrus: What is the best thing about receiving this award?
Leyla: This is special in so many ways. When I first enrolled at UWL I was looking for a way to make a difference to girls and women who had experienced a trauma like FGM. It has been an incredible journey since then and I can now look back and see how much important progress has been made. Today recognises that progress. There is still more to do but it is important to take stock and make sure we build on what has already been achieved.
On a personal note today is very special because I can share it with family members. I can only do this with their support. Even though it is going to embarrass you, the most important part is sharing today with you.
Feyrus: How will this help your work to end FGM?
Leyla: Whilst many countries are making progress in seeing FGM as a crime and form of child abuse we still have a long way to go for people to understand the long term psychological and emotional impact that FGM has on girls and women. We need much more focus on this and having the support of UWL and other institutions and organisations will help.
Feyrus: What do you like about teaching and giving lectures to young people?
Leyla: I love coming back to UWL and going to other schools, colleges and universities. I know I am invited to inspire young people, but the truth is that they inspire me! Ending FGM means we need to change beliefs and behaviours and young people understand this and are the most willing to find a way to move forward. I enjoy meeting groups of young people as they bring so much energy, openness, and enthusiasm to find solutions. I also like that they always surprise me and whenever you meet a group of young people at least one will ask a totally unexpected question. It keeps me on my toes!
Feyrus: How can young people support the work against FGM?
Leyla: The easiest way is to get active on social media and to add your voice to those already campaigning against FGM. Every share on Facebook and Retweet on Twitter counts. I would also recommend getting involved in a local campaign. There are great groups and organisations working against FGM. Find them on social media and then message to ask how you can help. You can also do some fundraising and organise your friends to do a marathon (or shorter run), film night, cake sale or any sponsored event and donate to an established end FGM charity.
Feyrus: I am very proud of you but this is going to take a while to sink in. Any advice on how I don’t look embarrassed when someone calls you Doctor?
Leyla: I am going to be hiding behind you when that happens. We are in this together!!!
Feyrus: Thank you Mum!