Hibo Wardere and Leyla Hussein, two Walthamstow-based anti- Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) campaigners, have been awarded the Freedom of the Borough at a special meeting on Thursday 19 April.
Councillors met ahead of Full Council to recognise their efforts campaigning against FGM, which causes huge suffering to women and girls across the world. Both Hibo and Leyla experienced FGM first-hand as they grew up in Somalia and have dedicated their time and efforts to educate people about the misery it causes so that no more young women suffer.
Hibo Wardere moved to London from her native Somalia in the 1980s. She struggled to find answers about her past and the FGM she had undergone from doctors, and it was not until she read a book on the subject that she understood what had happened to her. After writing about her experiences Hibo was invited to speak to teachers about FGM and how it might affect their pupils and she has been working as a mediator and educator ever since, helping young girls to escape from the threat of FGM.
Hibo Wardere said: “It’s been great to experience the support I have had from the borough. It’s good for the soul to know how I am truly supported. Being an anti-FGM activist is emotionally and physically demanding. My work is from the heart.
“Waltham Forest Town Hall was where I gave my first public talk. The support I have received has been vital in allowing me to spread my message.”
Leyla Hussein also experienced FGM first-hand in her childhood. Following her pregnancy, she wanted to ensure the physical safety of her daughter and this inspired her to start campaigning to make a change on how girls globally are protected from all forms of harm.
Leyla Hussein said: “Many thanks for this amazing recognition. I’m very proud and honoured.”
Leyla is the founder of anti-FGM campaign and support group Daughters of Eve and is also the Chief Executive of Hawa's Haven, a coalition of Somali women campaigners and community activists who aim to raise awareness around gender-based violence.
Cllr Clare Coghill, Leader of the Council, said: “It’s been a privilege to support the work of Leyla and Hibo. Their efforts to educate people about the dangers of FGM have prevented young girls undergoing this horrific surgery and guaranteed them a safer future - and not just here, in Waltham Forest, but across the world. We’re so proud to be able to award them the Freedom of the Borough of Waltham Forest, and I know residents will join us in paying tribute to these amazing ladies.”