28 Too Many is an international research organization created to end female genital mutilation (FGM) in the 28 African countries where it is practiced and in other countries across the world to which members of those communities have emigrated. Founded in 2010 by Dr. Ann Marie-Wilson and registered as a charity in the United Kingdom in 2012, 28 Too Many aims to provide a strategic framework of evidence-based knowledge and tools that enable both policy makers and anti-FGM advocates to be successful and make a sustainable change to end FGM. Latham and 28 Too Many have worked together since 2016.
In this Q-and-A, counsel JP Sweny and associate Grace Erskine share experiences and reflections from coordinating (with partner Lene Malthasen) a large-scale research project that involved more than 55 Latham lawyers across seven offices, as well as three international law firms, local counsel teams, and an on-the-ground activist organization in each of the 28 jurisdictions contributing expertise and research.
What made you want to get involved in the 28 Too Many project?
Grace: I had just started my training contract at Latham, and this was the first big pro bono project in which I had the opportunity to get involved. It sounded really interesting given its scale and the involvement of several different law firms. It is also a very worthy cause that I think doesn’t get enough attention, so I jumped at the chance to be involved.
JP: The project provided an opportunity to help in the fight against FGM and make a contribution to the truly impactful work of an inspiring charity. As a father to a young daughter who has family from East and West Africa, I had additional motivation to become involved.
Can you share some of the challenges that you faced during this project?
JP: The project involved coordinating research and legal analysis from 28 different jurisdictions across the African continent, most of which had different legal systems in various languages. 28 Too Many is a very small charity that does amazing work with limited resources, and we had to try to establish connections with local lawyers in each jurisdiction and persuade those firms to contribute their time on a pro bono basis.
What is your biggest takeaway from working on this project?
Grace: My biggest takeaways were how prevalent FGM is, how it transcends religious barriers, and how shocking the different types of FGM are. I also felt very grateful to be at a firm that allows me to balance my commercial work with pro bono work.
JP: Firstly, the incredible depth of talent and enthusiasm we have at Latham to lend support to such pro bono projects — we had to identify and allocate English-, French-, and Arabic-speaking trainees and attorneys to different country groups. Secondly, that perseverance pays! The final report was an incredible work product, even though there were times near the start where we really struggled to make contact with anyone willing to help on the ground in a number of the countries.
Do you have any ongoing or upcoming work with 28 Too Many?
Grace: A team from Latham has helped with the production of a model anti-FGM law, completed last year, and we continue to support the charity. Indeed, 28 Too Many recently reached out for help updating the country report on Sudan that we produced as part of the original guide (read more about this work). This follows the recent outlawing of FGM in Sudan — a major human rights victory. And we were very proud that the 28 Too Many report was highlighted in a New York Times article about Sudan’s changing law.