Zero tolerance of female genital mutilation – but is the government doing enough?
For those who don’t know already, female genital mutilation or FGM involves removing or otherwise cutting the external female genitalia. As the aim of FGM is to restrict women’s sexuality, normally all or part of the clitoris is removed. In some cases the whole vulva is stitched up, leaving just a small hole for urine and menstrual blood to pass through.
FGM is usually performed on children, and is generally carried out by unskilled practitioners who use unsterilized instruments and no anaesthetic. Girls are often held down by their female relatives while the cutter gets to work. Around the world 8000 girls undergo this horrendous procedure every day, hence the need for a day of zero tolerance.
While FGM is largely perceived as an African problem (it is practiced in 42 African countries) it is also widespread in some Asian countries and in the Middle East. In January the first conference on FGM in the Middle East revealed that it is inflicted on girls and women in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. In Iraqi Kurdistan more than 70 per cent of women have undergone it.
I work for the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO), a charity which provides support and protection to Kurdish women and girls who are affected by FGM in the UK. FGM is illegal here and is punishable by up to 14 years in prison, yet it is still practiced. A study by the Foundation for Women’s Health Research and Development (FORWARD) estimated that more than 32,000 girls living in the UK were at high risk of being subjected to FGM and over 66,000 had already undergone FGM. Charities like IKWRO and FORWARD are working with communities to prevent the practice, but we believe the government needs to do more too.
“Until now, action on FGM in the UK has been piecemeal,” says Naana Otoo-Oyortey, Executive Director of FORWARD. “The UK needs a more holistic approach, with demonstrable commitment on educating social workers, doctors and other professionals and engaging affected communities so that we can work together to end FGM.”
Yesterday I attended a reception with the Orchid Project and Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone. “We have to protect all girls from this abuse and to ensure that women and girls who have undergone FGM have access to the care they need,” the Minister said. She added that the government would continue to work alongside and support communities and partners.
Yet community organisations like IKWRO and FORWARD are calling for more than partnership and support. A year ago the government released guidelines on FGM, targeted at professionals who come into contact with children at risk. But these guidelines have not reached the professionals who need them, nor is there a plan to overcome the other barriers to tackling FGM. Jane Ellison MP, founder of the newly established All Party Parliamentary Group on FGM, recognised this issue at yesterday’s reception, saying that “although there are guidelines, a lot of these guidelines are not being fully implemented”.
We want the government to develop a long-term, comprehensive strategy to tackle FGM in this country, and we hope that the All Party Group will push them to do this. If the coalition truly has zero tolerance for FGM, then it must prove this by taking a more proactive approach to eliminating the practice, in this country and around the world.
A film was released yesterday by the End FGM European Campaign, calling on European leaders to take action. Watch it here.Tagged in: FGM, genital mutilation
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