FORWARD – Foundation for Women’s Health, Research and Development.
Through FORWARD’s programs, young women and girls are educated in exercising their rights, and encouraged to take leadership roles in their society. FORWARD also educates the public on the physical and physiological effects of FGM and child marriage.
In part II I chat with the dynamic Naomi Reid, Events and Special Projects Coordinator at FORWARD.
How long have you been at FORWARD?
I have been working with FORWARD since 2004 in the capacity as Administration & Finance Officer, a Trustee, Africa Programme Officer, Youth Programme Officer and now my current position as Events and Special Projects Coordinator, so I have moved around all areas of the organisation!
What are your duties as Events and Special Projects Coordinator at FORWARD?
I organize events from conferences to book launches to fundraising music concerts. I am also responsible for information and communication, the special projects encompasses all things ‘special’ but usually arts related projects that help raise awareness and funds.
My ‘baby’ programme is the Ambassadors programme, which is in the early stages but we have identified some incredible people to act in this role to push the agenda of FORWARD to a wider audience and raise much needed funds for our work.
We have the amazingly talented Senegalese singer/songwriter Carlou D, Gavin Weston the author of Harmattan (tackling child marriage in Niger) and visual artist , Bumi Thomas the talented singer, songwriter and photographer, Ade Daramy who is a Press Officer at the UK Governments Insolvency Service, Chairman at Sierra Leone Diaspora Network, radio host and all round talented guy! Then we have Sinem Bilen-Onabanjo the Editor-in-Chief of FAB magazine and photographer.
Knowing that everything I am involved in is making a real difference to the lives of women and girls. I have always said that if my work contributes to just preventing one girl from undergoing Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), or one girl from being forced into marriage then my work has not been in vain.
How important is public awareness in ending FGM and child marriage?
Public awareness within the communities affected by these issues is paramount, without change from within there will never be lasting sustainable change. This is why the model of FORWARD’s community programmes is so powerful as the whole community from the girls, to the traditional leaders, to the police to policy makers are all involved in the process of change, we only provide the support and the expertise to enable change to come from within.
When we are dealing with entrenched ideas and practices that predate all of the major religions, we understand that to change behavior we must first change attitudes, and that involves listening and learning from each community where FGM is practiced.
Raising awareness among communities not directly affected by FGM and child marriage is obviously very important, as we have to ensure safeguarding structures are in place to protect girls from undergoing FGM or being forced into marriage. Also we have to ensure the right people are informed and trained to provide the necessary care and support for women who have already undergone FGM or who were child brides.
What programs are in place to educate the public about FGM and child marriage?
There are many organisations and individuals working both in Africa and Europe to raise awareness of these issues. FORWARD’s work in the UK focuses on community engagement as the diaspora community are still affected by and practice FGM.
We work with local partners in Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Ghana and Sierra Leone focusing on FGM, child marriage and obstetric fistula. We support our local partners in developing the leadership capacity and skills of vulnerable girls and young women, including establishing girls and young women led programmes to strengthen their voice and visibility. We also support work enabling young women and girls to access quality support services, information and economic opportunities.
FORWARD works at all levels to address these issues, with the primary focus always being community engagement. For more information on what we are currently up to and our programmes please see the website www.forwarduk.org.
Are there plans to set up a chapter of FORWARD in the US?
FORWARD’s registration in the US will be finalized within the next few months, see the www.forwarduk.org for updates.
Thank you Naomi!
Funding for FORWARD’s programs are provided by Amnesty International Ireland, Awards For All – Big Lottery Fund, BBC Children in Need, Bristol NHS Primary Care Trust, Comic Relief, EU Daphne Fund, FGM Hilife, Home Office – Innovation Fund, and host of different charity foundations and trusts.