Guest blog from an FGM survivor: "the government must act now to prevent more girls being cut"
20,000 girls are estimated to be at risk of female genital mutilation here in the UK - but in the 28 years since it was made a crime, there hasn't been a single successful prosecution.
Last week on Newsnight, Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer insisted that a prosecution is 'only a matter of time'. But Nimco Ali - co-founder of Daughters of Eve and herself a survivor of FGM - says much more needs to be done to prevent British girls being 'cut'.
There's a petition over here and you can find out what else you can do to help here. Let us know if you sign the petition - and do also tell us what you think could and should be done to protect girls at risk, on the thread below
Co-founder, Daughters of Eve
Posted on: Tue 10-Sep-13 09:32:35
(84 comments )
Over 20 years ago, I came back to school from summer holiday. In my new uniform, I walked into the Year 3 classroom. I was beyond happy to see that I had the same teacher again a woman I cared about. All I wanted to do then was tell my teacher about a terrible thing that had happened to me, and how confused I was.
That summer, I had been taken to Africa to undergo FGM. Of course I did not know it was called that at the time, and every child will have a different word for it.
I told my story. I waited for shock to take over her face, but her expression did not change. I expected her to get angry and upset - just like when she heard about the bullying in Year 2 - and thought there would be a big meeting where it would all be sorted.
Looking back on that day, my heart still breaks. She didn't seem shocked. Rather than asking me if I was ok, my teacher looked directly at me - and told me how amazing it was that I had been though this important "part of my culture". I tried to butt in and say No Miss it was terrible", but she carried on telling me that it was like the Jewish coming of age celebration 'Bat Mitzvah'.
I had been to a Bat Mitzvah, and knew it was not the same. I just walked away. I didnt speak about FGM for another 20 years, for fear of being ignored again.
There has never been a prosecution for female genital mutilation in the UK, although it has been illegal for 28 years. Last week on BBCs Newsnight, Keir Starmer, Director of Public Prosecutions, said that we are closer to a prosecution than ever before. When this finally takes place, it will send out a strong warning sign that the UK has a zero tolerance policy on FGM. But we wont see prosecutions on a meaningful scale unless everything about how we deal with this issue in Britain changes.
Over the past 12 months, Keir has worked with me, and with MPs such as Jane Ellison and other activists such as Efua Dorkenoo from Equality Now, who has been banging on doors for over 30 years, to break down the barriers to prosecution.
But - as the DPP said, quoting something I told him from my own experience, "a child is not just going to walk into a police station with the FGM legislation and say 'I would like you to charge someone using this'".
Getting a prosecution is vital in achieving justice for a young woman or girl who has been abused - but the reason we have never had one in the UK is not simply because the police or CPS are not doing a good job. The police and the CPS are at the very end of the process. They need information from either a girl herself, which isn't easy; or from somebody who is responsible for safeguarding that girl and this simply isnt happening enough.
The main reason we have not had a prosecution for FGM is because countless individuals who are charged with protecting girls from harm teachers, social workers, health professionals and anyone and everyone who comes into regular contact with children - either do not have enough information or, worse, do not feel accountable for child safeguarding on this issue.
How can we expect a child to ask for help and advice if we are too worried about offending to discuss the issues ourselves? Every child, regardless of colour, race or religion has the right to protection; they have the right to be safe
Everywhere there are echoes of how society used to deal with domestic abuse, or child sexual abuse: in some schools its still considered to be a family matter. At Daughters of Eve we receive emails from teachers who have had a child tell them that FGM is either going to happen, or has already happened. Because there are no safeguarding guidelines, they email a small charity like ours, and ask us to deal with the case. I find that pretty shocking.
One of the last emails I received was from a teacher in London. She said that a young girl in her Year 5 class was being taken to Africa during the summer in order to undergo FGM. She had told the head-teacher, who was not interested; she was concerned that the parents would "leave the school" if they did anything.
Yes, that's correct. The head-teacher was more concerned about holding onto funding, which is allocated according to student numbers, than about protecting a child from severe physical and psychological harm something which the UN defines as torture. The teacher ended the email with "My heart breaks when I think what can happen to one of the loveliest learners in my class." That was truly heartbreaking, and still brings tears to my eyes.
Children at risk - or affected by - FGM spend half their time in school. Their teachers are their world. Those same teachers need to feel accountable for dealing with this extreme form of child abuse.
But last week Martin Howarth, Head of Children's Rights and Well-being at the Department for Education, decided that no guidelines will be put together for schools to help protect girls at risk of FGM. This is an utter failure - and shows how little has changed over the past two decades, since I tried to tell my story.
People sometimes say that FGM is a complex issue, but dealing with it is the same as for any other child safeguarding issue no more, or less, difficult for the authorities to deal with. Outstanding education professionals like head teacher Clare Smith of St Werburgh's primary school in Bristol are already showing the way, by specifically warning pupils about FGM in PSHE lessons.
Another incredible teacher, Lisa Zimmermann, came to work on FGM while planning a horse-riding trip as a reward for some students. She was told by a senior teacher at the school to "be careful with those girls as many of them have had FGM". Yes, senior teaching staff knew that a large number of their students at risk of FGM had already had it, but due to school politics and inadequate policies, nothing was done. In response, Lisa helped start Integrate Bristol; she began by working with four scared young women - there are now over 100 young people speaking out against FGM and other forms of violence against women and girls in Bristol.
But these great individuals (and others like them they know who they are) are only dots in a big picture. They simply cannot do everything.
Systems need to be put in place at a statutory level. Data needs to be gathered by midwives and other health professionals on girls at risk. And the government must ensure that schools are made to do their part.
Let's remember that a prosecution means we have already failed a child; sadly this summer I am sure we failed many. We need to get over ourselves on the whole issue of supposed confidentiality: as with other forms of abuse, a childs safety and well-being should be our first priority.
The only people who can put these systems in place are the Prime Minister, David Cameron; the UK Home Office; and the Secretaries of State for Education, Michael Gove MP, and for Health, Jeremy Hunt MP. They must act now; if they dont, more girls will be mutilated.
Finally, I would like to ask everyone reading this to keep your eyes open - and take action if needed. In June, the NSPCC set up an FGM helpline to make it easy to do something if you think a child is at risk. Ask your child's school what they are doing to safeguard children from FGM. Insist that targeted PSHE lessons are delivered which talk about FGM both in primary and secondary. How can we expect a child to ask for help and advice if we are too worried about offending to discuss the issues ourselves?
Every child, regardless of colour, race or religion, has the right to protection; they have the right to be safe. Ignoring FGM is racist- it means that girls from some backgrounds are less protected from violence than others. Speaking about it, and ensuring schools tackle the issue is not.
Parents at the school gate have a key role. While waiting for your child or when your childs friend comes over for tea and seems sad or nervous particularly after the summer holidays ask her if she is ok. You may be the missing link the person who can really help protect her, and change that girls life forever.
If you are worried that a child may be at risk of FGM, you can contact the 24 hour NSPCC helpline anonymously on 0800 028 3550.
To call on the UK government to show leadership in tackling FGM in the UK, please sign this petition from Daughters of Eve and Equality Now.
By Nimco Ali
Message deleted by MNHQ. Here's a link to our Talk Guidelines.
Awful that it's accepted in some cultures. Petition signed and shared. I have heard Integrate Bristol talk on Woman's Hour a few months ago. I had to pull over the car and sob. Truly shocking what some of these girls have gone through.
Signed and shared on my Facebook too. Horrific that it still happens. So brave of you to come forward x x x
I have signed. I am sorry you had to go through that Nimco but well done for finding the strength to bring it to public attention. I hope your campaign is successful.
Thank you for bringing this to everyones attention. I've signed.
"This is a campaign to actually get existing legislation implemented and for prosecutions to take place. This may help boys in the future once they are protected under law."
People don't seem to have considered the fact the the exist law is just as sexist as the campaign if not more so. People are unlikely to enforce a sexist law both on moral grounds and more significantly because they don't wish to be found to have committed sex discrimination.
If you want laws to be enforced then there's a better chance of that if they're well written and thought out. Given the lack of any prosecutions, it would certainly be interesting to see the existing legislation tested in court. Perhaps we need to single an attempted prosecution of FGM for the sake of male victims too as it might force the legislation to be rewritten and for everyone to be equally protected.
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Well it seems my last account is being banned, presumably because I got called a "twat". Very interesting that the admins here ban victims of abuse whilst leaving the abuser's account and abusive comment intact without even the hint of a warning.
Whatever2 you are saying that you do not support this campaign because it is only about girls. You said you will not sign because it isn't about boys too.
The legislation is not there for boys. This is a campaign to actually get existing legislation implemented and for prosecutions to take place.
This may help boys in the future once they are protected under law.
Please do link to your campaign to get MGM outlawed, and I will support it. Until then, your insistence that this campaign be diverted is just... Well I have no words.
If you stick too many issues/required actions into a campaign you will get fewer signatures not more. People only have to disagree with one of them and they won't sign.
Seriously, if you care at all, start your own campaign, otherwise nobody wins.
The campaign to get FGM made illegal has already been waged. This campaign is to get the law implemented.
The campaign to make MGM illegal has not yet been won. So why are you fiddling about with this one? There's work to be done!
"it's an HM Government e-petition by Daughters of Eve and Equality Now"
The later of those two has a rather unfortunate name in this context. Talk about saying one thing and doing another!!
"If it gets 100,000 signatures it could be debated in parliament. "
And that's yet another reason for an inclusive campaign that everyone can get behind. Separate the two genders for no reason other than sexism and we'll probably end up with two failed petitions both stuck on 60K signatures rather than a successful one with 120K. There really is no argument against a gender neutral campaign and only ever negative consequences with playing identify politics with people's lives.
And many thanks to those dishing out personal abuse to me in this thread, a sure sign of losing the debate if there ever was one.
That would render the petition completely ineffective.
This is not a Mumsnet campaign. If you actually bothered to click the link you would see it's an HM Government e-petition by Daughters of Eve and Equality Now, who are quite entitled to set their own agenda (as is MN). If it gets 100,000 signatures it could be debated in parliament.
If you added in all the required actions to outlaw MGM and to enforce that new law it wouldn't get as far as parliament in the first place, let alone be effectively debated.
If you actually care about MGM it would be far more effective to start a separate campaign - why don't you? Most of MN would be behind you.
As it is, your posts read like deliberate and highly insensitive derailment, especially as you have not once responded to Nimco's brave post, which is what this thread is about.
And no, FGM and MGM are not equivalent but I'd like to see both practices stopped. It's you who is playing oppression olympics by bringing MGM into a thread which is not about that.
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"I find this attitude that we shouldn't campaign to protect girls because there isn't a law for boys frankly disgusting."
Where exactly did I say that? - the point is that the campaign is fundamentally flawed and sexist and should be to protect everyone and therefore needs to be fixed.
No one wants the campaign stopped, it just needs to be expanded more than 10 fold and made gender neutral so it does not exclude 1.3 billion victims simply because they are not of the preferred gender.
Wharever2 the fact is that there IS a law about FGM. I find this attitude that we shouldn't campaign to protect girls because there isn't a law for boys frankly disgusting.
"If you want to highlight a "worse for men" issue, how about working on that one?"
No, that's exactly what feminists are doing with FGM, and stopping that sort of idiotic nonsense is exactly the reason I'm posting here in the first place.
These divisive and oppression Olympics type campaigns which deliberately and unnecessarily exclude huge numbers of victims time after time, solely because of their gender need to stop. Such a sexist way of doing things seems intrinsic to feminism, be it with rape, domestic violence or genital mutilation and even violence as a a whole now!
There shouldn't be laws against male genital mutilation or female genital mutilation or white genital mutilation or Muslim genital mutilation, just one law and one unified campaign protecting every single victim and bringing every single perpetrator to justice.
People are quite rightly offended by sexism and discrimination or "what about the menz" as you term it. The fact is that people with a conscience won't support these divisive and discriminatory campaigns. Furthermore they're going to stand up against sexism, will not be silenced and are not going to go away any time soon. Mumsnet can either have an inclusive and hugely successful campaign helping every victim that every right minded person will support, or alternatively you'll have to continue to put up with people highlighting sexism and wanting to see exclusionary campaigning stopped and every last victim helped.
And to reiterate, if anyone can point me to the Mumsnet parallel campaign against MGM or one helping all victims or give details of one that is upcoming then that will be the last of me you'll see in this thread. I will not be starting my own campaign or my own petition against MGM because I believe that to be equally exclusionary, stupid and divisive and the opposite of the unified approach that needs to be taken here.
Why make everyone sign 2 petitions, write two laws, publish 2 articles, have 2 debates and attend 2 protests when we could all just stand together and help all victims of these abuses at the same time?
* whatever2* please start a thread and a petition about male circumcision and I will happily sign it. Your passion for equality is very good, and your desire for little boys penises not to be cut is equally good, but please do not hijack this noble cause of ending FGM. It will serve no good purpose and rather than making people feel compassionately about the issues may have a negative impact (in my opinion).
If you do not want to sign the petition that is fine. But please link to one you do want to promote. As * garlicbaguette* says there may be many children in Africa who are very badly affected by male circumcision ceromony's that have gone very badly. I will be happy to find such a link if you tell me where the thread on male circumcision is.
"Around 140 million women and girls are living with the effects of FGM, including 101 million in Africa. Around 10 percent have experienced Type III".
You might not call 14 million people many. I would.
Post-infibulation: "The vulva is cut open for sexual intercourse and childbirth. It can take up to two years for a husband to penetrate his wife's infibulated vagina. Anthropologist Janice Boddy wrote in 1989 that it was a point of pride for men in Sudan that their wives give birth within a year of marriage, so the local midwife might be sent for secretly to enlarge the wife's opening."
That's two major surgeries to the genitals, each perpetrated in decidedly non-clinical conditions without anaesthetic, using stones and twigs as instruments. Some women even get stitched up again after giving birth, to make them 'clean'. The above procedure is then repeated.
I am in no way promoting forced male circumcision, but please don't persist in making FGM a "what about the menz" issue!
Several African communities still put their young men through horrifically painful initiation rites around puberty. If you want to highlight a "worse for men" issue, how about working on that one?
"FGM, even the 'lesser' type, has irreversible negative consequences for victims; these consequences exceed the effects of foreskin removal."
That's completely false, there are four different types of FGM, and (actually 4 types of MGM too). A number of the less severe forms of FGM are either equally harmful as MGM or far LESS severe. For example type four variants of FGM involve practices such a piercing or merely symbolic pricking.
Furthermore, Infibulation, which is the type of FGM everyone knows about and the most harmful, is actually the rarest form of FGM, accounting for just 15% of cases. And that's 15% of an already relatively small figure what with MGM having some 1.3 billion victims.
To be honest all this talk of severity and needlessly dividing things by gender really isn't helpful and is a diversion from the real moral issue anyway. Either it's ok to mutilate the genitals of children without their consent or it isn't. That's it. End of conversation.
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