Female genital mutilation is recognised as a live issue and an act of violence, depriving women and children’s rights to life as such a degrading procedure can result in death.
The procedure itself comes in four forms. Each involves removing various parts of the female genitalia, depending on the cultural preference where marital infidelity is imperative. Parts of the female genitals are perceived to be dirty and offensive, making the removal an essential pre-requisite for marriage. FGM is carried out on some newborns whereas others are made to have the procedure done any time up to the age of 15, marking a cultural rite of passage before puberty.
“It never stops hurting. It is always painful.”
The cultures that believe this procedure to be essential are spread out across the globe: Africa, USA, New Zealand, Canada, UK and parts of Europe all have women and children either deprived of their rights, or vulnerable to losing them. Despite the illegality of this crime in most countries, FGM is still acknowledged as a long running religious and cultural obligation, despite the severe discrimination, the further dividing equality between sexes and the violation of basic human rights. The various life threatening consequences of this crime for the young victims are infection, damage to the reproductive system and mental well-being, complications in childbirth and in some cases; fatal haemorrhaging.
Over 100 million girls ages 10 and over are thought to have undergone FGM in Africa, with another 3 million still at risk, disregarding the illegality of this crime in over 25 African countries. What some of us may not realise is that this tragic issue may take place a lot closer to home. The latest statistics suggest that approximately 66,000 women living in the UK have undergone the operation with a further 20,000 thought to be at risk. Despite the cultural tradition spanning over a number of generations, the law against FGM was only passed in 1985 and the law making it illegal to send children abroad was only passed in 2003. However, no one has yet been convicted in the UK despite the thousands of suffering victims and the thousands potentially still at risk today.
So what is being done?
March 2013 brought together the Commission of the Status of Women at a summit in the United Nation Headquarters, with over 100 non government UK organisations attending to bring the threatening FGM crisis to light. In terms of governmental support, the UK have pledged £35 million to combat the FGM currently taking place in this country, most of which will be poured into the education system with the remainder working on prevention methods and community projects. The action plan to prevent FGM is by educating children about this emerging issue and challenge what justifies the practice. With this generous input from the UK government, international development minister Lynne Featherstone gives her response:
This is an opportunity, with momentum building, to take it forward and realise the hope of ending it [FGM] in a generation.
Equality Now, an organisation focusing on women’s rights, have contributed a great deal to the great changes being made in the UK. By inventing a ‘joined up’ approach and battling prevention and prosecution simultaneously, the NSPCC have confirmed FGM as an official child protection issue.
With the government and non government organisations uniting against this overshadowed crime, a health passport (being piloted until November 2013) has been created for those exposed to the threat. With women and children also being vulnerable to the criminal act abroad, the health passport outlines their rights against the procedure and states the criminal penalties if a potential victim is approached.
For the very first time, FGM filled our television screens when featuring in the British drama, Casualty, in April this year. Having never been addressed to the public before through a drama, there were complaints made about the issue being too upsetting. Whereas Efua Dorkenoo, from Equality Now, feels this issue is too protected and is pleased with the publicity:
”It will contribute to bringing down the walls of silence and taboo around it.”
The storyline was created by scriptwriter Sasha Hails, who was inspired by a real situation happening in a London primary school. One of the characters in the episode, Tamasha, quotes a real victim of FGM:
“It never stops hurting. It is always painful.”
The rising awareness of this violating crime has led to an astonishing amount of action to be taken against female genital mutilation. Efua Dorkenoo states:
“FGM has been in the shadows in this country.”
However with the financial and compassionate support from the government and other organisations, this forgotten crime is sure to be remembered.