Female Genital Mutilation might be illegal, but it still takes place in the UK
Two weeks ago, two men were arrested after undercover investigators from the Sunday Times filmed medical professionals in the UK offering to perform female genital mutilation (FGM) on girls as young as ten. They have denied any wrongdoing, but it is estimated that 100,000 women living in the UK have survived FGM, with a further 22,000 girls under 16 at risk. I spoke to Nimco Ali from the Bristol-based organisation Daughters of Eve about her work to eradicate this harmful practice and support survivors of FGM.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is defined by the World Health Organisation as “all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons”. It is mostly done on girls under the age of 16, by a traditional circumciser who will practice without anaesthetic or proper medical equipment – often leading to horrific complications both at the time and in later life.
Daughters of Eve is a non-profit organisation set up in 2010 by three British survivors of FGM, who team campaigning against FGM with support, help and advocacy for women who have either undergone the procedure or who are at risk of it. Their vision is to “seek a world where girls are safe and free from all forms of gender-based violence, and where FGM is eradicated within our generation”. To them the report in the Sunday Times was no surprise. Having grown up in the UK and undergone FGM themselves, the Daughters of Eve team know too well the reality of FGM in the UK and seek to ensure those charged to protect girls at risks do so.
Nimco is an incredibly dedicated and passionate campaigner for women’s rights, who speaks with a compelling energy about her work which can leave a person transfixed. She says that the best part of her work with Daughters of Eve is seeing young women who are more empowered and engaged with the fight against FGM than she could have hoped to be when she was their age, and I must add the fact that they are is to her immense credit.
She and her co-founders set up Daughters of Eve with no budget or funding to address the needs of young women and girls in the UK that are being overlooked, and they have worked across the country for the past two years with little more than passion to keep them going. Nimco said “The founders of Daughters of Eve and so many of our friends were failed and I get up every day to ensure other girls don’t have to undergo what we did. Saving one girl means you save a generation from FGM, you give a girl the chance to grow up healthy and hopefully, happy”.
As well as working closely with FGM practicing communities, a lot of the Daughters of Eve’s work involves awareness-raising in the wider community. Their most recent project was to produce a video in collaboration with the EQUALS Partnership to highlight the horrors of FGM and just how many women are affected by it, both in the UK and abroad, and stress the core principle that FGM is rooted in the inequality of women and girls and needs to be addressed within the violence against women and girls framework.
“We’re privileged to have access to lots of avenues to spread our message, and the internet is a very good one to use,” she said, “The video we made shows that this is an issue for all women, not some, and we should be talking about it and engaging in discourse that takes it out of the ‘cultural’ cul-de-sac – this is not an issue of ‘culture’, it’s not a racial issue, it’s not a religious issue, it happens across the world, it is an issue of violence against women and girls”.
I also asked Nimco about how we can ensure further arrests and convictions for FGM (although it has been illegal in the UK since 1985, there have been no convictions), with a view to permanently eradicating it. “It’s a chicken and egg problem. There have been no convictions because no one takes it seriously as an issue, but no one takes it seriously as an issue precisely because there have been no convictions. If people knew more about it, it would be clamped down on, but they don’t, so no one is scared of the prospect of conviction. There needs to be a commitment by the police, social services and others that it’s high on their priories, not just something that they pay lip service to. FGM is a safeguarding issue and needs to be treated as such, not passed back to communities affected by it. What other form of sexual abuse do we seek those affected and those committing it to address? Only when commitment is given to the subject and the Acts in place are actively enforced and FGM addressed as safeguarding will we get a conviction, but to have to seek a conviction in order to give force to the law in place is just nonsensical”.
Daughters of Eve’s next plans are to leaflet the local areas of the men arrested after the Sunday Times exposé. Not, Nimco assures me, to demonise those arrested, but to provide information to their communities about the offence they were arrested for and use it as an opportunity to educate people about what FGM means, and what can be done about it. They also plan to try and engage newly re-elected London Mayor, Boris Johnson and make him deliver on his manifesto promise to create a taskforce to tackle FGM.
Finally, I asked Nimco how others can get involved with the work of Daughters of Eve and the fight against FGM. “There are lots of ways – write to your MP to educate them on the importance of the issue and to let them know your concerns. Join us on our website, Twitter or Facebook and help spread the message. Daughters of Eve is an entirely self-funded project, so we’re always looking for help fundraising or volunteering. As last week’s arrests demonstrate, this is not an issue that we can afford to ‘forget about’ – we all must unite against it and show that it’s a problem that must be taken seriously and stopped as soon as possible”.
Nimco will be speaking about FGM and her work with Daughters of Eve at the INTERSECT conference in Bristol on 19 May. INTERSECT is a one-day event which aims to explore issues of intersectionality within feminism and raise awareness of campaigns from non-mainstream organisations. Tickets are priced at £3/£6 and are available now.Tagged in: boris johnson, Daughters of Eve, Female Genital Mutilation, feminism, FGM, gender, health, intersect, london mayor, violence, women, women's rights
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