A Rutgers School of Social Work Doctor of Social Work (DSW) student, Mariama Diallo, has been awarded the Council on Social Work Education’s coveted Minority Fellowship for her work with survivors of female genital mutilation (FGM). CSWE’s Minority Fellowship Program opportunities support the mission of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to reduce the effects of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities by increasing the number of individuals trained to work with underrepresented and underserved racial/ethnic minority persons with or at risk for mental health and/or substance abuse disorders.
Diallo, a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), has been striving to deliver justice to survivors since she was a child. Growing up in Guinea, a small country in West Africa, Diallo says she lived in a world where gender-based violence was considered the norm.
“It is so ingrained in the culture that it is hard to see it as a problem,” Diallo said. “As a child, my dream was to make things different, especially for women and girls. Therefore, social justice has always been something I’ve strived for.”
In the United States, nearly half a million women and girls have experienced FGM. Survivors of FGM can experience both physical trauma from unsafe medical practices, as well as psychological trauma including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression. Many African women in the United States struggle to receive the support they need, including access to physical and mental health care due to linguistic, cultural, and financial barriers. Diallo’s work seeks to change that.
“For the past 15 years, I have been working with survivors of FGM as well as girls who are at risk of the practice,” Diallo said. “I have noticed that the fear of being subject to FGM causes a serious distress for families. In addition, survivors have a very high need of services due to the physical and psychological trauma they have suffered.”
Although her work focuses primarily on African women who have been impacted by FGM, Diallo noted that women from other countries also suffer from FGM. As the recipient of the CSWE’s Minority Fellowship, Diallo will have access to a grant funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a federal office under the Department of Health and Human Services. Diallo says her long-term goal is promoting mental health services in West Africa, especially in Guinea itself. Diallo noted that cultural taboos and a lack of concrete policy have created a mental health crisis in the nation. Diallo is seeking to work with the Guinean government to develop a bill aimed at establishing a solid safety net for Guineans struggling with their mental health.
Diallo’s interest in policy came in part from seeing how clinical work and policy intertwined while studying at Rutgers. She said Rutgers’ DSW program was critical in building the skills she needed to launch this next phase of her career.
“The DSW has given me more skills than I can use in my clinical practice,” Diallo said. “It made me think more critically about different psychoanalytic theories and explore better ways to apply them in practice. The DSW is an opportunity to share your knowledge and learn from a variety ways.”