BEYOND BEAUTY. Why there is more to Jaha Dukureh, the new spokesperson for L’Oreal Paris

“Violence on women stems from society’s refusal to accept women and girls as whole and human – instead they are seen as properties and objects moulded into their desire.”  Jaha Durukeh

Jaha Durukeh, who has just been announced as the new international spokesperson for cosmetics brand L’oreal is no stranger to our readers. The inspiring and committed young activist from The Gambia is the Founder of the Safe Hands for Girls organisation, which seeks to ban Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) globally.  She is also Regional UN Women Goodwill Ambassador for Africa.

She will make her debut with L’Oréal Paris starring in the campaign for Colour Riche Shine .

“Over the years, many have seen my relationship and partnership with @lorealparis. My journey so far has been incredible but even I couldn’t believe this dream will ever become a reality and today it has. I am so happy to announce that I am joining the #Loreal family as the newest international spokesperson,” she said, sharing the news of her latest appointment on her Instagram page.

Back in 2015, her tireless efforts were recognised by L’Oréal Paris, which granted her $10,000 as a Woman of Worth Honouree – funds which she said she would put towards building a health clinic for young women in The Gambia for young women.

“There’s no imperfection in our anatomy, and there should be no limit to our survival. It is easy to tell girls and women to get over it, and that structure of sexism and violence against women is a lazy excuse, but this lazy excuse is why 200 million women live with FGM… Until no girl dies or suffers as a result of FGM then we will continue to fail our women and girls,” she has publicly stated.

A survivor of the horrific practice herself, Dukureh was highly influential in the writing of the law that outlawed the practicing of FGM in The Gambia in 2015.  Born in the west African country, but now a US resident, the 30-year old firebrand who was also forced into marriage as a 15 year old, has best captured her story in this speech at the inaugural United States of Women in Washington DC:

“As someone whose genitals were mutilated when I was one week old, and forced to get married at the age of 15, I think I am very, very fortunate to be here in front of you. One in three women at some point in their life is a victim of violence against women. This violence is the lasting trauma that often fills women with guilt, blame, and disbelief in humanity and oneself.

Violence against women is global and systematic, it is something as common as ascribing to gender roles and believing that a women’s place is in the kitchen, to practices as abhorrent as FGM. Violence against women also presents itself as a solution to problems burdened by patriarchal lenience in society, this includes subjecting girls to early marriage in order to prevent the same promiscuity that’s encouraged in boys and men.

Violence against women is also the lagging of women’s health research and not taking women’s pain as something serious, it is calling a woman hysterical or crazy or a lira, whenever she speaks of her lived experiences.

Violence on women stems from society’s refusal to accept women and girls as whole and human instead of properties and objects moulded into their desire.

It is building an organisation on your own and still getting told that you are successful because you are pretty, or being called an unfit parent for daring to make a life outside the home.

As a child bride and FGM survivor, standing here today wasn’t in my wildest dreams, and most women and girls like me will never make it this far. I stand here today to represent a forgotten population, girls and women who are footnotes in research papers, who never make it past lunch conversations.

I represent their suffering, I represent their pain, their success, their strength, their determination, and their triumphs. I believe in a future where girls and women can say no without repercussion, where their words are heard, and their voices are listened to.

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We do not have to be flowers whose only job is to be pleasing to others until we wilt and die. We are not the conception, and our only display of pride should not be sown vaginas and shut legs. There’s no imperfection in our anatomy, and there should be no limit to our survival.

It is easy to tell girls and women to get over it, and that structure of sexism and violence against women is a lazy excuse, but this lazy excuse is why 200 million women live with FGM, this lazy excuse is why girls and women have defended themselves after rape instead of receiving appropriate care and support.

We’re failing our girls and women at an outstanding level, and it will not get better unless we’re willing to listen to women and girls, and deem their experiences as valid. Until we act upon what we say and truly show that we care.

Until the birth of a daughter is celebrated as much as the birth of a son. Until then, we will continue to fail our women. Until the education of a girl is a right rather than a privilege we are failing our women. Until child marriage is a forgotten thing of the past, and girls and women are equipped with choice, we are failing them. Until no girl dies or suffers as a result of FGM then we will continue to fail our women and girls.

So much change can occur just by adjusting everyday attitudes, but bigger change comes when we invest in women and girls themselves. By funding survival-led grassroots organisations that go into the unheard community and make their voices heard.

Look at how much women and girls are able to achieve without standing on the tools men are gifted with, how much more can be done when we give them equal opportunities?

It is no longer about asking to be let in, the message is simple. We are here and we are ready, we will continue to be brilliant, bright and powerful in the midst of all adversity.

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