One of nine daughters in a Muslim Somali family who came to Britain when she was seven, Fahma, from Barton Hill, has been hailed a hero by many – including the Secretary General of the United Nations – for her tireless work to safeguard young girls against FGM.
At just 14 years old, Fahma – who has admitted she was once “shy” and “reserved” – bravely spoke out about the horrific acts of FGM in Britain and violence against girls.
She started volunteering with the Bristol-based anti-FGM and sexual violence charity Integrate, becoming a trustee at 16.
“I had just started school at City Academy where Lisa Zimmerman (from Integrate Bristol) was my English teacher at that time,” said Fahma.
“We kept hearing about the charity and the work that was done there, but I had no idea what FGM was. I was even more shocked it was practised in Bristol – in Britain.
“It was such a taboo subject that no one talked about it. I knew then I wanted to get involved with the charity. I was quite shy and reserved at first, but they helped me grow into it.
“I kept thinking about how helpless the girls [victims] were feeling and that was what motivated me to keep going.”
In early 2014, she launched a petition demanding that Michael Gove, the then Secretary for Education, write to all schools reminding him of their duty to safeguard girls from FGM. In three weeks, the petition attracted over 250,000 signatures.
Speaking at the time, the former City Academy student said she was “stunned” and when Mr Gove agreed to contact every school, primary and secondary, to discuss teaching pupils about the horrific practice and how to stop it.
Fahma said; “I’m so happy – never in a million years did I think almost a quarter of million people would sign the petition and that I would get to meet Mr Gove face to face, and so quickly as well.
The campaign hit the headlines when it was applauded by the general secretary of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, who called it “deeply inspiring”.
After meeting Fahma in London, where the pair discussed the need for education and awareness around FGM and other forms of gender-based violence, the UN leader promised to put the issue on the global stage.
“The fact that he wanted to meet me felt like a huge honour, and I was representing all the young people of the charity Integrate Bristol so it felt like a big responsibility,” said Fahma.
“He praised me for the campaign and for the work we were doing and promised to speak about FGM wherever he went.
“I think he realised that open, public support is essential if FGM and violence against women and girls are to stop. Abuse continues because people are silent. That silence has to be broken and schools have to be involved – not just in terms of safeguarding but also in terms of education.
“That’s what will make a real difference, that’s how we can end FGM in a generation.”
Fahma’s campaigning work has culminated in compulsory training for public sector workers to help teachers, doctors and social workers identify and assist girls at risk.
Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens said of the teen: “Fahma is an inspirational young woman and someone Bristol should be immensely proud of.
“Her work . . . to raise awareness of this issue now has the weight of the United Nations and a promise by the Education Secretary for a schools programme. This is a fantastic achievement. Fahma is a powerful role model for our young people and of a city that is prepared to speak up about this issue.”
Fahma has won several accolades for her work, including the title of Outstanding Young Campaigner 2014 at the Women of the Year Awards in London.
And in July of this year, she became one of the youngest doctorate holders in the city – before even starting university.
She was awarded the Doctor of Laws by Bristol University – an honorary degree acknowledging her campaigning work.
The student, who has recently begun an undergraduate degree in biomedical science at Kings College London, told the Bristol Post she was honoured to receive the doctorate.
“I couldn’t believe it when the university told me,” she said. “It can be quite overwhelming, but I’m really looking forward to it.”
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