World Changer February 2018: Angela Peabody, Global Woman P.E.A.C.E. Foundation & Walk to End FGM

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Angela Peabody
Founder & Executive Director
Global Woman P.E.A.C.E. Foundation

I was a little girl growing up in my native Liberia in West Africa when I discovered what helping people meant. When I saw my mother take in other people’s children, nurture them, send them to school and care for them, I wondered why she did that. She enjoyed having a house full of children. She said children brought her joy. She instilled in me that when one person is fortunate to have something and another person is unfortunate to not have that something, the fortunate person should be kind enough to share with the unfortunate. My mother’s lesson to me was not only in words but she also demonstrated through example.

During my early years in Liberia, I remember seeing a group of girls walk around with white chalk over their bodies, including their faces. Walking around topless, they only wore the bottom of a bikini. I never knew the significance of their appearance; I was told that they had just come out of the ‘Bush’ but I did not know what the so-called ‘Bush’ was.

My parents were Christians therefore I grew up in a Christian environment. I attended a Catholic primary school and a Methodist secondary school. I came to the United States to further my education. I returned to Liberia, got married, started a family, and had two lovely sons.

As an adult, I discovered that those topless girls had been in a cultural secret society bush. I was told that they were taken to a place called the ‘Gray-gray Bush’. The girls were only about 8 years old when they were taken to the gray-gray bush, and were released from it at about 10 to 14 years old. Once they were released from the gray-gray bush, they were ready for marriage to men more than twice their ages in most cases. I had been told all of these things about the gray-gray bush but I was never told exactly what the girls did in that bush or what was done to them. I guess that is what made the gray-gray bush a traditional secret society. It would be a number of years later before I discovered what was done in the gray-gray bush, which was female circumcision.

My life in Liberia was a memorably happy one. I had a loving husband, two sons and a successful television career. One day I received the startling news that my sister, Rose Peabody had been beaten to death by her husband. He had beaten her with his bare hands until her body went limp in his arms. That news left me with zero tolerance for domestic violence. Since I had never seen my father hit a woman, and my husband would have never thought of hitting me, I knew that a man had options. There is no reason for a man to hit a woman. I have no tolerance for any type of violence against humanity.

My life changed overnight when one of the bloodiest military coup d’états occurred while we slept and our lives were terrorized and threatened by the rebels who had taken over the country. My family and I fled Liberia to safety in the United States.

I found myself back in the U.S. but I quickly discovered that living in America as a student was very different from living here as a working class person. It was difficult adjusting to my new life and overcoming the traumatic change. After all, I just had survived a bloody coup d’etat and I still had nightmares and flashbacks of machine gunfire. As a journalist, I began to write about my experiences during the coup d’etat, and 400 hundred pages later, I had my first published novel, Exiled within the bowels of American Society. Twelve years later, I published my second novel, When the Games Froze.

One day during my research to find other African-born female authors, I came across a woman called Waris Dirie who was born in Somalia. I read that Waris was a survivor of something called female genital mutilation (FGM). I set out to contact Waris and conduct extensive research on FGM. I discovered the correlation between female genital mutilation and what they called in Liberia, female circumcision. In fact, both were one in the same. I suddenly reflected on the topless girls with white chalk on their bodies in Liberia and the gray-gray bush. I wrote my very first article on FGM during a 14-hour flight from Washington’s Dulles Airport to Tokyo, Japan. Everyone in the cabin was asleep and I was the only one awake the entire flight because the more I wrote the article, the angrier and more anxious I became. Little did I know at the time that FGM would impact my life to the extent that I would spend the rest of my life fighting for women and girls against the practice of it.

Angela and Students in Lyon, France, (photo provided)

My disdain for FGM increased, and my passion built toward wanting to do something about it. It was shocking when I found out that FGM was being practiced right here in the U.S. I used my lengthy daily commute from Northern Virginia to Washington, D.C. to help raise awareness. Anyone who sat next to me in the metro was asked this question: “Excuse me, have you ever heard of something called female genital mutilation?” I received some strange looks but nobody ever told me to leave them alone. They all showed interest, and if they had not heard of it, I proceeded to educate them on it. I found that at the end of each day, I had educated at least one person about FGM. My sons urged me to start a non-profit organization since I was so passionate about the subject. With that advice, Global Woman P.E.A.C.E. Foundation (GWPF) was established in 2010.

Eight years later, GWPF has hosted four consecutive years of the Walk To End FGM, our largest annual event. In 2015 we launched our Global Woman Awards. We have established a special rehabilitation program for women and girls living with the consequences of FGM. We are close to launching our special preventive program for the safeguarding of girls that are at risk of it. Last year we sent our first survivor to have the post-FGM restorative surgery, and she is now a happy young woman. We assisted two survivors who fled their native country for safety in obtaining their asylum here in the U.S. We have collaborated with other like-minded organizations in the campaign to end FGM. We have worked with Virginia Senator Richard Black to change the FGM state law from a mere misdemeanor to a class 2 felony. We testified before the Virginia Senate Committee twice so far to plead for the change in the FGM state law. I have been coast to coast in the U.S. doing presentations on FGM. I have also traveled to Europe on the mission of ending female genital mutilation.

Angela, Senator Black, Aula and Christine, (photo provided)

I truly believe that I was called to do this work, and I am fully committed in answering the call. My greatest wish is that I live long enough to see my grandchildren get their education, get married, and give me great-grand-children, and of course, to see the end of the practice of FGM. I want to see the day when the gray-gray bush will no longer practice FGM and forced early child marriage.

Learn more at www.globalwomanpeacefoundation.org

Other Resources

Walk To End FGM: https://www.wizathon.com/walk2endfgm/

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