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Ruth Harley – giving a voice to girls affected by FGM

Ruth Harley, BU graduate

Former BU music scholar, Ruth Harley, is drawing on her passion for the arts to make a difference with an innovative project to support and empower young girls in Kenya.

Ruth, who graduated from her degree in events management in 2019, credits her time at BU with giving her a global outlook and the confidence to take on new challenges.

Her music scholarship introduced her to a new love of opera and chamber music (a departure from her previous experience of musical theatre) and since graduating she has continued to study opera and perform around Berlin where she is now based. Her next focus is to take this passion on the road with a project designed to raise awareness and give a voice to thousands of African girls affected by female genital mutilation (FGM).

Ruth said: “As well as developing my singing while at university, BU definitely gave me a greater understanding of global issues. I was able to travel to China for a semester and I began to realise that the world is much smaller and more connected than I had known. After graduating I continued to work on my voice and performing, while also travelling to India and around Europe.

“Having settled in Berlin, I met some new friends who are working to raise awareness of female genital mutilation within communities in Kenya. I began thinking about how I could use music to support this work and give a voice to the young girls most affected.”

Ruth Harley, BU graduate, working with a group of girls in Kenya

Ruth has now travelled out to Kenya to begin The Women’s Vinyl Project, which will develop and record songs that share the stories of girls affected by FGM.

Ruth said: “Today, because of the pandemic, the number of cuttings has increased. One in five girls in Kenya has undergone FGM and once a girl is cut usually she is married very quickly and that usually means an end to their education. Devastatingly, some girls can be as young as ten years of age.

“I will be working alongside a charitable foundation called Zinduka, which offers shelter for girls who do not wish to undergo FGM. Their work and education programmes can help to change communities and help so many girls to stay in school longer and at least have an informed choice about what happens to them.”

A group of girls who have worked with Ruth

While in Kenya, Ruth will be working with women and girls who wish to share their stories by writing music. The recordings will then be created into a vinyl which will be sold, with profits going back to projects in Kenya that are helping to stop FGM.

Ruth said: “The project will be sharing some harrowing personal stories, but I also intend for it to be uplifting and provide encouragement to others. By recording music, I want to bring hope back to these girls and enable them to feel empowered again.

“I also hope that my personal story may inspire others to think about how they can use their natural skills and talents to make a difference and take on things they might never have thought possible before.”