Empowering Voices: My Transformation Into a Social Justice Warrior 

By Gabriela Vilas - First-Person Experience

March 19th, 2021 at 9:00 P.M. EST.  

 

“In order to achieve change, we need to empower girls. We need to make sure that no girl child is at risk of female genital mutilation.” My eyes and ears were blessed to learn that from Jaha Dukureh one cold Tuesday afternoon, the first woman ever in Gambia to say no to female genital mutilation (FGM) practices. As her words resonated deeply in my soul, I left my international relations class with a myriad of thoughts envisioning my journey to support the cause. Almost every day, I found myself in front of my computer, researching and reading testimonials from FGM victims such as Mariya Taher who described her mutilator as the most “ugly animal” she had ever seen, or Beryl Magoko who remembered, “feeling something sharp and crying afterward.”

As the third week of March came — the last time on campus before the entire world painfully shut down from a global pandemic — a new assignment was given. I never imagined that a research-based explanatory project on a human rights violation would ultimately make my career plan take a 180-degree turn. I did not want to be a soul that lives in misery because I couldn’t find my passion in life.

     

Photo by Danilo Navarro

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I took on the challenge. I based the project on the implications of FGM on a woman’s body and its many connotations in communities. I knew it was a sensitive topic to write about without in-depth reading and research. However, I was ready to stand up and denounce the horrors women go through both in faraway countries and within the United States of America. By involving myself deeply in the research and in this international issue, I discovered what I was really passionate about in college. I signed petitions to end FGM and joined organizations that treated victims. I intend to educate my community about FGM, child marriage, and child trafficking through workshops, activities, and guest speakers. I think it is already time to talk about such issues in community colleges and universities in order to start making a change. I intend to continue fighting to end FGM. Young women and children continually undergo such procedures without their consent, bringing long-term effects, such as HIV infections, psychological trauma, and infertility. Some communities are not aware of their fundamental human rights and still conduct their lives according to conservative ideals and harmful traditions.

Without knowing so, through this project and my work in Urbana, I slowly transformed into a social justice warrior. One day, I will open my own non-profit NGO to raise awareness for human rights. Health services and facilities will be provided to the most under-nourished communities so people who have been through FGM can be treated appropriately. I want to create a space where women, their families, and community leaders can learn how this activity, rather than encouraging reproduction and purity, only harms women’s well-being. I want to empower them to practice their human rights and give them the opportunity to raise their voices.

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Ashlie Rodriguez

Gabriela Vilas is a second-year student majoring in business administration at the Honors College Dual Language program at Eduardo J. Padrón Campus. She is currently Urbana’s media manager for its volume XIV and vice-president of Fellowship and Service of the Beta Kappa Iota Chapter from Phi Theta Kappa Iota. She has a goal to double major in business administration and international relations to create her own NGO that could treat FGM’s victims and spread human rights education to different communities around the globe.  During her free time, she enjoys practicing guitar, photography, and editing videos on Adobe PremierePro.

Gabriela Vilas