The promise of a safe world reaches Scandinavia’s largest documentary film festival

From left to right: Maryum Saifee, Sait Matty Jaw, Jaha Dukureh, and director Patrick Farrelly. Photo: Simone Nilsson


Launching the Copenhagen Documentary Festival, a panel of women’s rights activists examined the subject of female genital mutilation before the premiere of the movie “Jaha’s Promise”. The debate attracted a full house, and from the publishing house hosting the event, the panel challenged the western world and the United Nations, asking for a change.

By Simone Nilsson

Through heavy Scandinavian bike-traffic and the doors of Politiken’s publishing house, Gambian born Jaha Dukureh was seated on stage, ready to tell her story. A small clip from the movie she is here to promote ran in the background, telling the audience about her fight to end Female Genital Mutilation. Jaha’s determination poured through the speakers:

“I will do this, even if it means taking on my family, my tribe, and the whole of Gambia.”

The Promise

Jaha Dukureh, a 25-year-old survivor of female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage, had just flown in from Atlanta to tell the story of how she found the strength to fight global FGM when her daughter was born:

“I had been the victim of FGM, and I didn’t want her to go through any of that. I needed to protect my daughter. And if I can’t allow this to happen to my own daughter, then how can I allow this to happen to anyone else’s daughter?”

Indeed since the birth of her daughter, Jaha Dukureh has kept fulfilling her promise step by step by confronting the presidential Imam of Gambia, getting Obamas attention, and finally having FGM banned in her home country in 2015. But Jaha has no intention of stopping until FGM is history:

“Our goal is to end FGM in one generation,“ she said.

3 million girls are subject to FGM every year, in more than 30 countries, according to the specialized UN agency, the UNFPA.


Useless UN                                

For the debate in Copenhagen Jaha Dukureh was joined on stage by women’s rights advocate Sait Matty Jaw and UN Foreign Officer Maryum Saifee.

Sparks went high when Jaha aired her opinion on the UN:

“UN is the most useless organization, they sit and talk about FGM in New York or Geneva, while a girl is bleeding and dying in the local community. I think they are useless,” she said.

UN officer Maryum Saifee answered by expanding on what she sees as the complexity of the subject, and then went on to thank Jaha:

“She has been holding our feet to the fire and making us work more on this issue,” she said.

When Jaha mentioned how she didn’t see much funding going to local programs, Maryum Saifee continued,

“To go beyond reporting is a sensitive topic. You don’t want to do harm as an outsider. We’re doing another training- and grants program, and we’re trying to elaborate our community powers.”

The message from Copenhagen

One of Jaha’s last points was underlined, when audience member Naisula Lepariyo stood up and argued, that criminalizing FGM could drive the practice underground and make it more unsafe for girls, and more difficult for data collectors like herself to collect valid and honest information.
To this Jaha answered, that she believes countries need to have laws, that protect their children:

“But we do not believe that the law itself is the solution, we need to let the local communities understand why FGM must stop. The minds of the people must change. We always try to get people to come to our point of view,” she said.

The film “Jaha’s promise” premieres on march 16th, and you can watch the trailer here:

Jaha Dukureh on the importance of showing the movie in western countries: