Ann-Marie Caulker is a human rights activist from Sierra Leone who fights for the rights and dignity of young girls and children in one of the world’s poorest countries. She campaigns against the deeply rooted tradition of female genital mutilation in her country and champions the fight against child labor and forced marriage.
According to the WHO there are currently at least 200 million women and girls living with genital mutilation in 30 countries across Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Female genital mutilation is a deeply entrenched ritual in Sierra Leone’s patriarchal society: 90% of all women and girls between 15 and 49 years of age have been circumcised. Even though genital mutilation is against people’s human rights, there is no law against the practice in Sierra Leone – there is merely one clause that prohibits girls under the age of 18 from participating in initiation ceremonies. Social pressure, fear of being disowned and a lack of awareness continues to compel many girls and women in Sierra Leone to have their genitals cut in ceremonies within secret “bondo” societies.
Ann-Marie Caulker was herself the victim of genital mutilation at the age of six. It was her own personal situation that drove her to campaign against the misogynistic traditions in her country.
Born in Kabal as the daughter of a polygamous father, Ann-Marie Caulker’s mother died when she was two years old. Her stepmothers treated her badly and forced her to have her genitals cut. When her father no longer wanted to look after her, Ann-Marie Caulker went to live with her grandmother. Following her grandmother’s death she spent some time living on the streets and was enslaved by rebels during the civil war. Having fallen pregnant as a result of rape, she decided to keep the child. Her son died shortly after birth.
Driven by her own painful experiences, she decided to do something to change things for women in her country. As the founder and director of the “National Movement for Emancipation and Progress”, Ann-Marie Caulker has fought for years against genital mutilation, child labor and forced marriage in Sierra Leone.
She is the founder and headteacher of “Freetown School”, a place where girls who have been disowned by their families for refusing to accept genital mutilation can find refuge. The school also takes in orphans whose mothers have died in childbirth as a result of genital mutilation. Freetown School is currently looking after and educating 440 children.
With her NGO “Katanya Women’s Development Association” (KaWDA), Ann-Marie Caulker successfully gets young women out of prostitution, finds training programs for them and takes them into her school. KaWDA teaches about 300 girls a year how to cook and sew and aims to offer a wide-ranging spectrum of courses to help young women become more autonomous.