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Obituary: Efua Dorkenoo

Anti-FGM campaigner and writer (1949-2014)

EFUA DORKENOO, who died of cancer in London last Sunday, will be remembered with respect and gratitude for many things, but most of all for her many years of hard-headed and deeply committed campaigning to erase the cruel scourge of female genital mutilation (FGM), which even now blights the lives of — or kills — millions of girls and young women across the globe, year on year. 

Striking in both her physical presence and her wider influence, Dorkenoo’s sway and work to stop FGM came to span much of the globe. 

In the past year she saw both massively increased concern to address FGM in Britain, and, just a week before she died, the formal launch of the African-led movement, The Girl Generation: Together to End FGM, of which she was programme director.

Born in Ghana, where as a young nursing student she saw at first hand the grim realities of FGM, Dorkenoo then relocated to work in London, becoming an example par excellence of how to combine practical activism, political acumen and solid scholarship to great effect in FGM campaigns. 

Dorkenoo understood that none of these elements was likely, alone, to achieve the outcome which she unerringly demanded. 

To eradicate FGM, communities, political will and professional skills all need to be aligned, with their own specific briefings, data and messages — so that’s what Dorkenoo, recipient of a master’s degree in public health and an OBE for public service, delivered. 

In 1983 Dorkenoo founded Forward, a British women’s health organisation campaigning against FGM. She collaborated for decades with the World Health Organisation and in later years she led FGM programmes for both Equality Now and the international health/development organisation Options. 

Dorkenoo’s legacy is already many thousands of girls and women untouched by the looming terror in their communities of FGM. 

Those who remain to take forward her life’s work are determined that soon these terrors will reside firmly, only and forever in history.

HILARY BURRAGE

Hilary Burrage is a sociologist, consultant and writer. She is currently writing a book on eradicating FGM in Britain.

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