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20-year-old Bethel is healing hidden scars of FGM

VISION: 20-year-old founder of Hidden Scars, Bethel Tadesse

AT JUST 20 years old, Bethel Tadesse has began to make a dent in the suffering experienced by many women who are subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM) or the threat of it. FGM takes place all over the world and not just in West Africa, which is a common misconception.

Speaking to The Voice, Tadesse explains why she felt the need to take a year out from studying for a degree in Education Studies and Social Care at the University of Northampton and return to her home city of Leeds as an ambassador for Hidden Scars, which she set-up in response to the FGM crisis.

“I didn’t take a gap year between sixth form and university, so I wanted to take time out of education and so much was happening with Hidden Scars. I felt like it would give me time to network, which would also help me get a job when I leave uni.

“When I was studying, I got a job with a charity called Integrate UK. It’s a youth-based charity, so everyone who works there is my age. It’s based in Bristol and there, I work on raising awareness about FGM and helping people to look out for children who are being groomed for radicalisation and sexual exploitation. It was an outreach role, so I was going to schools and hospitals to talk to people in the community, which made me think about doing more work in Leeds, where I’m from.

“I was doing so much in Northampton with the council as well as with Integrate UK, which has led to me doing events in Leeds and working with the police to stop FGM."

The passionate young activist also discussed the challenges she has faced:

“Apart from the times when I worked at Integrate UK, most of the time I am the youngest person in the room at meetings. When I go to places alone to speak up about Hidden Scars and FGM awareness it’s very different to what I’ve done before so I have to work on making sure people take me seriously and not see me as someone young just trying to get experience. It was a struggle to get people to notice me.”

“When I started Hidden Scars in Northampton, I volunteered with the Zim Women’s Association, who took me to meetings with them and encouraged me to talk by passing questions about FGM to me. A lady there basically mentored me and told me to make at least one comment in the meeting so people would begin to get to know who I am. She taught me how to communicate in those situations.”

She added:

“I haven’t personally gone through FGM, but hearing the experiences of close family members who have helped me understand their perspective. That really helped me to campaign.

“Anyone can campaign against FGM if you’re passionate about helping women and stopping violence against women and girls.”

If someone suspects that a girl they know is at risk of FGM they should contact the police by dialling ‘101’ or the NSPCC FGM helpline on 0800 028 3550.

For information on Hidden Scars, click here.

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