Why is the UK failing girls at risk of FGM?
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has been illegal in the UK for the past 30 years. But to date, not a single person has been charged with the crime.
Now, a group of school girls from Bristol have had enough of the UK’s failure to keep girls safe.
In their short film, Silent Scream, they hope to bring the closeted practice of FGM into mainstream debate.
Chief Inspector Dave McCallum who features in the film talks tough about the laws surrounding FGM.
”Anyone involved in FGM, whether they do it themselves, whether they organise for it to happen or assist in it happening, commits a serious crime and is liable to 14 years in prison.”
So why are we failing to protect thousands of girls on British shores?
Muna Hassan, one of the girls behind the film rejects the Government’s softly-softly approach to FGM. Speaking on BBC Newsnight she said:
“The statistics show that MPs are terrified to do anything about FGM. They’re hiding behind cultural stereotypes. What would you do if the girl had blonde hair and blue eyes? Would FGM still be going on in this country?”
FGM is part of a patriarchal tradition which uses violence to control female sexuality. Girls as young as two are told to lie down whilst all or some of their clitoris is cut away with a blade, scissors or a knife.
Victims are then sown up, leaving one tiny hole for blood and urine to pass through. They aren’t unstitched until their wedding day.
Communities that still practice FGM believe it preserves a woman’s cleanliness and banishes the social shame associated with female sexual pleasure.
However, girls who endure the mutilation are left with serious health problems, infertility and a lifetime of agonising and unhappy sex.
Could it be that politicians and authorities are shying away from a frank debate on FGM because they find the issue too grisly and embarrassing to face?
In June, Lambeth Council criticised Lambeth Women’s Project of leaving “sexually explicit material” in view of children. The material in question was a police-sponsored poster warning children about the dangers of FGM (see WVoN story).
FGM has been shrugged off as a dark, arcane practice, rife with cultural sensitivities, operating outside the parameters of normal British society. This perception has allowed Governments, hospitals, schools and other services to duck their responsibility to girls at risk of FGM.
There can be little doubt that politicians and other agencies could be doing more to keep children safe.
Schools and hospitals have been given no guidelines on dealing with FGM, despite the fact that professionals working in them are in a good position to identify girls at risk.
“Somali women don’t know the law in this country. They need information in hospitals when they’re babies are born or when they’re flying on holiday” says a woman speaking anonymously on Silent Scream.
Despite the clear need for clear information and guidance, David Cameron earlier this year decided to axe the anti-FGM Coordination Office.
Force Change has launched a petition, demanding the Government do more to support victims and actively investigate and prosecute suspected cases of FGM.
For girls like Muna Hassan, born and educated in the UK, the time for British authorities to stop burying their heads in the sand is long overdue.