Raising awareness of FGM at a UN Conference

Valerie, one of our Trauma Ambassadors, gave a speech about female genital mutilation (FGM) at the United Nations (UN) Conference at the Armenian Cultural Centre in New York on 12th March 2024.

Valerie Lolomari, an FGM survivor and activist, was invited to be a UN Women UK delegate for the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW68). The theme of the 68th session, ‘Accelerating the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls’ is closely related to Valerie’s mission of supporting women affected by gender based violence.

Valerie at the UN conference

Valerie’s speech focused on how ‘FGM and other harmful practices can be solved when rural women are free from illiteracy’. Female genital mutilation is the process where the female genitals are deliberately cut, injured or changed for sociocultural reasons with no medical benefits. It has many potential harms and it is a form of gender based violence against women and girls.

Valerie has been an ambassador for Healthwatch Essex since spring 2023, sharing her experiences as part of our Trauma Ambassador Group. She has previously shared her story publicly with us through our podcast, Hidden Voices, and spoken at some of our events about her experiences.

Whilst living with her grandmother as a teenager, she was taken to a nearby village on a ‘holiday’ and was mutilated without warning or any understanding of what the ceremony involved. In the short term, she experienced extreme pain and continuous infections. The effects have continued into her adult life, resulting in seven miscarriages, fertility struggles, and difficulties with intimacy. Describing the long term impacts, she said:

“When they send me letters to go and do smear tests, I keep it for as long as I can just because I’m avoiding anyone going below my belly button to try and do any kind of examinations on me. When I had my children as well, the births were very difficult – it meant that the first week or so I’m unable to bond with the children because I’ll be nursing the wound. Female genital mutilation is a life sentence.”

Valerie runs her own grassroots organisation and community interest company, Women of Grace, campaigning against the harmful practice of FGM and supporting other women who have experienced this trauma. Talking about her inspiration for founding Women of Grace, Valerie said:

“I want to help and support those women who are now in the place that I was in at the time, I didn’t know where to go, I didn’t know who to talk to and I was just feeling so ashamed.”

Valerie is one of the Trauma Ambassadors at Healthwatch Essex, a group which aims to educate others about the effects of living with trauma. Sharon Westfield de Cortez who facilitates the group said:

“I cannot express just how proud I am of Valerie for taking this incredibly important message to the UN Conference. It is vital that women across the world are protected from harmful practices such as FGM, and the complex, life-changing impact which they have. We must persevere and work together to ensure that all citizens are empowered and allowed to grow and flourish to their full potential, free from risk of harm. Valerie is a shining example of this, as well as being a truly inspirational individual, she has bravely shared her story in order to give strength to others. Her contribution as a Healthwatch Essex Trauma Ambassador is highly valued.”