Lay Pioneer from North Finchley recognised in New Year’s Honours List
A Lay Pioneer from St Barnabas, North Finchley, has been highlighted for her ground-breaking work to end the global practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the King’s first New Year’s Honours List. Campaigner, psychologist and humanitarian aid-worker, Dr Ann-Marie Wilson, who has a terminal cancer diagnosis, receives an MBE. The citation reads that she is being recognised “for services to the prevention of Violence Against Women and Girls.”
In 2017 Ann-Marie was Licensed as a Lay Pioneer in her church, St Barnabas, North Finchley by the Bishop of Edmonton, Rob Wickham and she has been a Mission Partner with Church Mission Society since 2010.
In 2010 Ann-Marie founded the charity 28 Too Many, which set out to end FGM in 28 African Countries and the diaspora, where the practice is prevalent. By building on more than 3,000 FGM survivors’ stories, whilst collating and interpreting research data for use with international bodies, and mobilising grassroots organisations with advocacy tools, Dr Wilson has helped secure widespread change. She is a Global Expert FGM Advisor to the United Nations, the World Bank and the Metropolitan Police, amongst others.
Following 28 Too Many’s legal report “Sudan: The Law and FGM”, the practice has now been outlawed in the country. Dr Wilson first became aware of the prevalence of the practice when working there in 2003 with aid agency, Medair. Since April 2020, FGM in Sudan is punishable with three-year prison terms for its perpetrators. For a country where it is estimated 87%of girls and women between 15 and 49 years have undergone FGM, Dr Wilson’s campaigning has impacted the lives of millions of women and young girls.
The Bishop of Truro, Rt Rev Philip Mounstephen, is the former head of Church Mission Society, which supports Dr Wilson as a Mission Partner. Bishop Philip commented about the MBE:
“Ann-Marie is truly inspirational. In the face of significant challenges she has been an indefatigable campaigner, faithfully pursuing God’s call to champion the rights and dignity of some of the world’s most vulnerable women. I’m in awe of all she’s done and this honour is a fitting and hugely well-deserved recognition.”
Her efforts combatting FGM has won wide acclaim, including a British Citizen Award 2015 and the Good Housekeeping Magazine’s a Heroine of 2016. Her Ogilvy and Mather FGM publicity campaign won the prestigious Global Advertiser of the Year, beating multi-million dollar brands like Nike and Amazon. Dr Wilson had previously trained in community midwifery in northern Pakistan, fistula rehabilitation in northern Nigeria and worked as a psychologist at a UN camp for displaced Somalis on the northern Kenyan border.
It was a meeting Dr Wilsonhad in 2005 with a Sudanese girl called Fatima, who was cut at five years old, that led to a life-changing decision to take up the FGM cause. Dr Wilson resigned from a London-based profession to begin campaigning. She recalls:
“I met Fatima when she was a 10-year-old yet already seven months pregnant, having been raped by armed militia. We cared for her and gave her a safe delivery at the Christian medical hospitalin West Darfur, at which I was working. In my lifetime, the work of the charity Fatima inspired me to establish, has given her a law to protect her grandchildren.”
By 2022, the charity had achieved Dr Wilson’s founding aim of seeing a 10% reduction in the practice of FGM across 10 countries in 10 years. 28 Too Many had also published over 120 research reports, including reports on the law against FGM across Europe, raising a call for action from European governments. Following this, her charity merged with the Orchid Project in April 2022.
Dr Ann-Marie was diagnosed with incurable non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL) in 2015. The story of her charity’s work is published in her book, ‘Overcoming – My fight against FGM’, published by SPCK in 2021.