For those who do not know her, Ban Soon-taek is a quiet first lady, married to the secretary general of the United Nations but rarely vocal on global issues. She showed another side, as a champion of human rights equalling her more famous husband, at a recent event on ending female genital mutilation (FGM).
Her ringing call to “end harmful traditional practices and unleash the power of young girls” came on at an event organised in the margins of the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York on 18 April. She thanked participants for endeavouring to “change a harmful tradition into an empowering mission”.
Ban took her inspiration from a meeting organised by the Guardian between her husband and the young British anti-FGM activist Fahma Mohamad two years before in London. She paid tribute to this newspaper’s contributions, expressing hope that the media would continue to “help us spread the message that girls need education, not mutilation”.
As chair of the event, I listened with great interest as Ban spoke about how Fahma was reaching out to address risks to Diaspora communities in developed countries where most people are unaware that FGM is a threat. Her efforts mirror those of my own organisation, Finally Girls Matter, which I founded along with my daughter to protect women and girls of all ages and in all places – including in societies where the practice is largely ignored.