Since its inception, FORWARD has grown rapidly and has expanded their mandate significantly. Their main areas of work are female genital mutilation (FGM), child marriage and obstetric fistula; as they envision a world where all women and girls have the right to their dignity, health and are offered equal opportunities. They are dedicated to advancing the rights of African women and girls and safeguarding their sexual and reproductive health. FORWARD aims to change harmful practices and policies that conflict with the human rights, dignity and wellness of African women and girls. They seek to end the above mentioned forms of gender-based violence (GBV) as well as increasing women and girl’s access to support. FORWARD also advocates for a sustainable network of partner organizations and works to advance the growing network of diaspora African women while promoting their engagement with social issues that affect African women and girls as well as their communities.
FORWARD has a unique approach to addressing GBV through a variety of methods. These include:
- POLICY ADVOCACY & CAMPAIGNING:
- SPECIALIST ADVICE, OUTREACH, INFORMATION & SUPPORT:
- LEADERSHIP & SKILLS BUILDING:
- RESEARCH: FORWARD
FORWARD is not only a leader in advocacy and resources, the organization offers intensive one-on-one support for community women. They signpost and refer girls to specialist services such as appropriate medical care or counselling. Leadership training for women is also a service they offer, as the organization believes in the success of empowerment and raising girls’ voices and the crucial role they can play in the sustainable development of their communities. They have successfully trained many women to take on leadership roles in their communities such as responsibilities of health advocates or peer educators.
In 2011 FORWARD organized a national conference entitled, Mobilising Young African Women in the UK Conference with over 120 participants. Conference sessions focused on young African Diaspora’s women issues such as identity and worked on skills building, media training, leadership and campaign development. FORWARD has a prominent concentration on youth and has held several events such as a recent Youth Advocacy Café. The organization’s Youth Programme, in celebration of International Women’s Day also hosted Tunaweza festival (named after one of the Tanzania girls networks) in celebration of young African women which included a film screening, performances and various stalls with crafts and African food.
The organization believes in community action and incorporates community engagement as a central aspect to their work programmes. They engage with women to become leaders and advocates on the issue of FGM in their communities. They believe that this grass-roots approach will bring about a true and lasting change in attitudes and behaviour. FORWARD has witnessed this rhetoric become a reality and their investment in women’s leadership is showing great results. For example, in the Bristol area, the organization has been working with FGM-affected communities since 2008 with 15 community women, and a concrete change in attitude about FGM has been evidenced. Their projects in Africa have also demonstrated great results such as the Empowering Girls At Risk initiative in Sierra Leone and Libera, which has the goal of improving the sexual and reproductive heath of young girls.
Like every organization, FORWARD has its challenges. Its main one as described by Naomi Reid, the organizations, Events and Special Projects Co-ordinator, is the lack of an adequate UK national action plan to address FGM. There is currently no strategy to and advocating for a national FGM action plan will remain a priority for the organization until it is realized. Also, similar to many organizations we highlight, FORWARD struggles with implementing long term sustainable projects due to funding constraints and the current financial climate. FORWARD also expressed concern about the lack of men engaged in the campaign, particularly as men are often in traditional leadership roles in African communities.
We sincerely hope that this feature will help FORWARD, and other organizations to collaborate creatively to address these issues in a fierce coalition to end gender-based violence. The MEWC team is eager to continue to learn from their successes and leadership and we hope we can collaborate in the future. We are proud to feature such an inspiring organization dedicated to making every woman count!
Networking and partnership within the UK African Women’s diaspora is a particular interest of FORWARD so if you are an individual or African-led organization, please contact them with ideas. Additionally, if you are a like-minded organization or are involved in some way in GBV advocacy or support, please contact FORWARD for collaborative opportunities.
For more in-depth information, mentioned reports or contact information visit the organization’s website: www.forwarduk.org.uk
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