It is about money and do not forget about the price tag!

A new blog by Dr Leyla Hussein OBE for International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women 2019

I like Jessie J and many times I danced to “Price Tag” but I do not agree with the lyrics when it comes to be women’s rights activism. I have learnt the hard way that money is very important for activists. We are a valuable part of the campaign and I now wear my personal price tag with pride!

Today is International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and the start of the 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence. Activists will be at the heart of events, campaigns and conferences during this busy period and it is important that we think of our own well-being as we take on this challenging work. It may not be regarded as socially nice to talk about money but let’s be honest, both recognition for our contribution and having money to look after ourselves is essential to our well-being.

Violence against girls and women is endemic. People are often shocked when I say that there is a war against women so let’s look at some statistics from the United Nations.

  • 1 in 3 women will experience physical and/or sexual violence during their lifetime.
  • 137 women are intentionally killed by a partner or family member every day.
  • 650 million girls and women were married before the age of 18 and they were often prevented from completing their education and forced to marry.
  • More than 200 million girls and women are living with the lifelong effects of female genital mutilation (FGM).

These are just a few headlines based on data that is recorded. However, in many countries there is no way to keep an accurate record of the girls and women who die from male violence. As a campaigner against female genital mutilation (FGM), I hear the stories of girls who died during FGM but their deaths are hidden or recorded with a vague medical description. The brutal truth is that we do not know how many girls die each year from FGM and what breaks my heart is that the world is mostly too busy to care. Therefore, we desperately need strong activists to lead the hard work to challenge the global oppression of women and we need to start recognising their value.

It took me many years to recognise my own worth as an activist. I was often invited to events and conferences to speak as a survivor of FGM. Then one day I realised that I was sat on a platform with other people who were considered “experts” by the organisers and they were being paid fees to attend and often very substantial ones. I was furious when I realised what was happening to me and many other survivors.

As an activist I still do many events for no fee and will always do this as it is an inevitable part of campaigning, but I do now always expect to be treated fairly. I also help other survivor campaigners recognise their value and demand fair treatment. We haven’t quite formed a trade union of FGM survivor campaigners but sometimes it feels like we need one!

I also now make talking about money a key part of the emotional well-being training I run for other activists. How can these young men and women take on the huge challenge of leading social change if they are struggling to feed themselves and their families? And it is not just about conference speaker fees. Activists can be ostracised by their communities and even their own families which can affect them in so many ways including financial support and access to employment. They are often labelled as troublemakers and blacklisted or seen as too risky to give a job to.

It is difficult for me, but it is much worse for many activists working in Africa and on the front-line in the fight against FGM. We know that financial insecurity often leads to stress, anxiety and depression. Even worse, in some of the remote and challenging locations where activists have to go to carry out their work a lack of money can lead to them taking risks with their safety by travelling in less reliable vehicles, working alone instead of with a partner and staying in insecure accommodation.

During this 16 Days of Activism I will be sharing stories and blogs on social media to promote emotional well-being for activists, and we must put money at the start of that. I urge all organisations working with young activists to make sure they are properly supported emotionally, physically and financially. They are the ones who will bring about change but not if they are burnt out, broke and are forced to stop campaigning to find work that pays a fair wage.

So like Jessie J I want to make the world dance. I am driven in this work because I want all girls and women to be free from violence and to be able to dance and sing. No one becomes a human rights activist for the money but we should make sure everyone in a campaign is treated fairly and looked after including financially. Cha-ching!

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