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Hidden scars: Inspirational student uses placement year to change the lives of exploited young women

Date 6.02.2017

Bethel Tadesse, aged 20 from Leeds, has the passion, spirit and determination needed to change the world. Since starting a joint honours in Education Studies with Social Care at the University of Northampton, she has worked tirelessly – alongside her full time studies – to improve women’s rights and health. Now Bethel is taking a year out to raise awareness in the fight against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

FGM is a procedure where female genitals are deliberately cut, injured or changed, but where there’s no medical reason for this to be done. The procedure is mostly carried out on young girls between infancy and 15 years of age. It has no health benefits, and harms girls and women in many ways. It is used to control female sexuality and can cause severe and long-lasting damage to physical and emotional health.

The World Health Organisation estimates that more than 200 million girls and women alive today have been cut in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia* where FGM is concentrated. However the problem is also prevalent closer to home; there were 5,700 new cases** of female genital mutilation recorded in England in 2015-16, and it is estimated that 20,000 British girls a year are at risk.

Bethel is of Ethiopian heritage and has close family members who were subjected to FGM. After volunteering for several organisations, she launched her own organisation – Hidden Scars – in 2015. Hidden Scars work with people and groups in both Northampton and Leeds, and aims to put an end to the practice.

Bethel explained: “I was inspired to do something after watching the Channel 4 Documentary The Cruel Cut. One of my mentors told me if you want something done, you’ve just got to get up and do it – so I did.”

The University of Northampton’s Mark Allenby, Programme Lead for Social and Community Development, explained: “Bethel used her first year volunteering module to make contacts with both local and national organisations. Her professionalism and desire to make a difference was clear right from the start of her course. I was delighted to see her featured in this video, as it shows the kind of transformational practice that underpins the University’s Changemaker approach of recognising a problem and doing something about it. Bethel shows that whilst studying is important, what is more important is to use your education to make a difference in areas that matter most to you.”

Bethel has recently worked with Northamptonshire Police and Northampton General Hospital to spread the organisation’s message, and she regularly runs events which explain FGM to members of the public. “I work with and advise local authorities to provide information on FGM. I also provide FGM training for professionals and individuals interested in knowing more about the practice,” Bethel explained.

Bethel is dedicated to helping vulnerable people in many ways. “I am currently working as a lead outreach worker for Integrate UK – a youth-led charity that provides information on FGM, child sexual exploitation, grooming, gang culture and radicalisation,” she explained. Integrate UK produce media resources such as short films, series, music videos, and theatre plays, and the young people also train students and frontline professionals in safeguarding and in how to deal with these topics. Bethel recently starred in a video for the charity, which is available online here.

*http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs241/en/

** http://www.hscic.gov.uk/article/7180/First-ever-annual-statistical-publication-for-FGM-shows-5700-newly-recorded-cases-during-2015-16

Picture by Sami Ullah.