Meet Jaha Dukureh, a 31-year-old women’s rights activist and anti-female genital mutilation (FGM) campaigner, who is hoping to run for president of the Gambia.
Dukureh, who was subject to FGM when she was just one week old, moved to New York City at 15 for an arranged marriage to a man in his 40s.
After she failed to get pregnant, she underwent surgery to undo the type 3 FGM, which consists of removing a girl’s clitoris and labia and stitching them together to leave only a small hole to urinate and menstruate.
She said it was like “going through FGM all over again.”
After her marriage broke down, Dukureh managed to enroll herself in a high school in New York City after being rejected from 10 others as she didn’t have the consent of a legal guardian.
At 17, she moved to Atlanta, Georgia, and remarried.
After she graduated college, Dukureh founded Safe Hands for Girls, a non-profit aimed at ending FGM for girls, and went on to earn a Master’s in Non-Profit Management from the University of Central Florida.
Her work campaigning to end FGM led to the Gambia banning the practice in 2015, according to the Guardian.
Dukureh went on to become an adviser to former US president Barack Obama and was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2018.
She is now a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador for Africa.
As an FGM survivor, she pointed out the anti-FGM campaign has helped her find her voice. During the pandemic, she also set up a program through her NGO Safe Hands for Girls to provide food and cash to women-led households.
At 31, she hopes to enter the political scene in the West African nation, standing for president.
“I am facing a lot of ageism, and a lot of sexism,” Dukureh told the Guardian. “But for me, the fact that I even dare to say that I want to be president in the Gambia is statement enough – it is what girls need right now. It’s an answer to everyone that has ever questioned our ability to lead not only in Africa, but across the world.”
Dukureh is calling for a “system change,” arguing for the need to support healthcare, education, agriculture and the tourism industry in the nation.
“Africa is not a poor continent. We are rich in resources and human capital – it’s just bad leadership holding us back. So when we talk about system change, we are talking about making those changes for every single person and not just certain people within the population that get to benefit while everyone else suffers,” she said.
In March, she joined the People’s Democratic Organization for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS), a party that was a part of the Coalition 2016 in the presidential election that year.
“Women are the majority of registered voters in the Gambia and 72% of Gambia’s population is under the age of 35. That’s my demographic,” she said.
Although she did not qualify for the election on Dec. 4, she said she will run again for the next election.
“I don’t do anything I don’t believe in. The same people who doubted that Gambia would pass a law against FGM are probably the same people who are doubting that I can become the next president of this country,” she said.