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Q+A with Anti FGM campaigner Leyla Hussein

leylahussein 800

Leyla Hussein by Lily Bertrand-Webb

Posted by Kay

Whilst catching up with online news a week ago, I happened to glance upon a filmed interview, based on misinterpretations of FGM that was performed (and written, so I later found out) with a total poker face by Leyla Hussein. The satire (with stand up comedian Bridget Christie watch it here) was based on actual questions Leyla has been asked.  Whether it was her satirical envelope-pushing or her headscarf’s attitude, I knew immediately she had to be on our site. One tweet later we were in touch and met in person last Friday when she came over to the HQ to be photographed by Lily Bertrand-Webb. In walked a warm, generous woman who was as sharp as she was funny, and full of the kind of courage that inspires greatly and shifts mindsets.

A trained Psychologist, Somalian-born Leyla is a leading campaigner on FGM and gender rights, successfully lobbying the government with her E-Petition ‘Stop FGM in the UK Now‘ that triggered a much-needed debate in Parliament.

She was included in the BBC 100 women list of 2013 and recently voted 6th in the Woman’s Hour 2014 Power List. Her many awards include Cosmopolitan Ultimate Campaigner Women of the Year Award 2010, True Honour Award 2012  “by the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights organisation for recognising her work on preventing honour based violence, protecting victims/survivors and bringing perpetrators to justice.

She co-founded Daughters Of Eve who are working to protect girls and young women at risk from FGM and in 2013, started the only counselling service for FGM survivors in the UK, the Dahlia Project.  There are 60,000 woman a year in the UK alone who get cut and contary to popular belief, it is not a part of any religion, it is a cultural practice adopted by many different faiths. Leyla’s powerful documentary ‘The Cruel Cut‘ on FGM for Channel 4 in the UK was nominated for a Bafta in 2014, The Amnesty Media Awards 2014 and Best Onscreen Talent category for the CDN Awards 2014. Leyla also blogs for the Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan magazine and The Guardian.

1. What is your earliest beauty memory?

2. The first time I wore make-up and threaded my eyebrows was the age of 18 because my mother wouldn’t allow me to wear make-up, she told me it would ruin my skin by the time I was 25.  I also wasn’t confident at all, I was extremely shy and spent a lot of time in the library and hid away.

 3. I feel most beautiful when…….

When I feel confident within myself by attending therapy sessions every six months.  I call it, “ My inner make-over sessions“ – no make-up and comfy pjs always help.  However, I totally enjoy getting ready for an event where I get the chance to dress up in my traditional African garments and feel confident and beautiful.leylahussein800

 4. Who do you find beautiful and why?

This may sound very cliché but my 12 year old daughter is very beautiful from the inside and out, she carries a confidence I wish I had at her age, she still has her own struggles and we have an open dialogue about what beauty is.  We are now in an era where young girls are pressured to look a certain way and it’s my job as a parent to teach my daughter that images are airbrushed, and about the use of hairpieces and make-up.  I go as far as Googling the natural looks of her favourite pop stars like Beyoncé and Disney stars.

 5. When you were a child, what was your Mother’s beauty routine?

My mother had a routine where she waited for my dad to go to work and then applied a daily facemask made of natural herbs and put rollers in her hair.  An hour before my dad would return she would have a shower and remove the facemask and rollers, and wear a very pretty dress.  My dad always came home to a woman who was always immaculate, however my mother has always told me, “You need to look good for yourself first, others enjoying it is a bonus”.   I still follow that rule.  My mother’s favourite Somali saying is, “It’s not about what you wear, it’s about who is wearing it.”

 6 Is make-up a chore or a delight?

I rarely wear make-up but when I do it’s a total delight.

 7. Did your father refer to your Mother’s beauty, and how?

My dad idolised my mother, he would refer to her as the most beautiful person he had ever laid eyes on and would tell me he couldn’t believe his luck that she married him.  He sadly passed away in 2006, now my siblings and I always remind her of her beauty.  She is 60 and not a wrinkle in sight.

8. What would you like to see more of in the beauty industry?

leyla hussein800

Thank you for wearing your ‘favourite headscarf’ to the shoot Leyla!

I would like to see more diversity, women from different backgrounds, women who look like me, and girls that my daughter can identify with. Also, I would like to see images of women in their natural state.

9. When was the last time your mascara ran, and why?

I’m the biggest crier I know, I cry when I receive a letter from individuals who have never met me and remind me of the importance of my work, especially emails from FGM survivors who encourage me on a daily basis, their support means so much to me but it also means I’m left with Panda eyes!

 10. If you could give one beauty ‘gift’ what would it be?

Marjaans Baroque

Marjaans Baroque

I use Marjaan’s, a handmade, organic skin care line created by Firdos Ali.   I love Baroque, a Frankincense & Rose face balm for dry skin.  I use it to moisturise and remove my make-up.  My skin has never felt better.  Now that I do a lot of speaking engagements I will wear make-up and get home extremely late.  Too tired to sit in front of a mirror and remove my make-up, I massage Baroque into my face and leave it on for 5 minutes then wash off with warm water.  I don’t need to moisture after.  I love it and don’t go anywhere without it.

See Leyla’s Channel 4 Doc ‘The Cruel Cut’ here     Dahlia-Advert

Read more about FGM via Leyla’s blog at The Huffington Post

Counselling for survivors of FGM can be found here at the Dahlia Project.

For advice, help and information on what can be done about FGM see the Daughters Of Eve site

Follow Leyla on twitter

Leyla was photographed exclusively for ThandieKay by Lily Bertrand-Webb

FGM Infographic 2014

via The Women’s Stats Project



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