The Faces of Defiance
Project info

The Face of Defiance is a portrait project of survivors of female genital mutilation (FGM) and campaigners against it. So far it has created over 30 portraits taken in the UK and USA and will be expanding the project across Africa and the Middle East in 2017/2018. The ultimate goal is to support NGOs and other organisations with a book to aid campaigning against FGM as well as support broader campaigning efforts.

The project was inspired by international FGM campaigner Leyla Hussein who asked photographer Jason Ashwood to collaborate and create a portrait project which change the narrative about how survivors were portrayed. Leyla wanted to change the common perception of survivors - not as 'broken' women but as strong, beautiful, empowered women who could lead positive lives and end FGM as a collective, despite their suffering.

The project seeks to broaden global public awareness by creating debate and understanding within westernised cultures about FGM and those within western societies who survive it. The project seeks to give exposure to the rights of women who should be empowered to speak out about FGM, seek support and break the community cycle of FGM. Issues that are so desperately difficult to overcome for women in affected communities.

These subjects are therapists, nurses, campaigners, public speakers, authors, award winners and tireless campaigners. They have all dedicated their lives in one way or another to defy their community expectations and campaign to end FGM and support the survivors of it. The portraits also include the subjects with their children (where they have them) who have not been cut, thereby demonstrating the break in the community cycle between mothers who speak out and refuse to continue the community practice into the next generation. The children’s future children will also be spared FGM with the cycle broken, and thus the project represents generations of change.

The Faces of Defiance has been exhibited in Washington DC and Dublin. It has been published in various media and Leyla Hussein's portrait (not featured here) was purchased by the National Portrait Gallery in 2016.

FGM is the practice of pricking, cutting and/or sewing together a woman genital organs (often referred to as being ‘cut’). FGM is embedded in many African communities and although the reasons for it are deeply complex, they can be summarised as broadly based on systems of chastity, control and perceptions of womanhood. Globally, over 100 million women have suffered FGM, and issue which is increasingly prevalent in western society.