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UK pledges to tackle FGM

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scalpel, FGM, UK pledgeDavid Cameron has pledged to help eradicate FGM within ‘a generation’.

The UK’s coalition government brought female genital mutilation (FGM) to the fore of British politics last week as Prime Minister David Cameron pledged £35 million towards a global aid programme to end the barbaric practice of female circumcision.

It is the largest ever international investment to end FGM and it is hoped it will be used to eradicate the procedure within a generation.

With the UN’s global ban on FGM last December, which two thirds of UN member states co-sponsored, this support from the British government is undoubtedly of vital importance, as the numbers of women and children who have been subjected to FGM is staggering.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), between 100 and 140 million girls and women worldwide have been subjected to some type of female genital mutilation.

Their website says: ‘Estimates based on the most recent prevalence data indicate that 91,5 million girls and women above 9 years old in Africa are currently living with the consequences of female genital mutilation.’

And ‘There are an estimated 3 million girls in Africa at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation every year.’

That is 8000 girls at risk every single day of being violated, mutilated, scarred … scared and at risk of unimaginable pain and even death.

The practice is also prevalent not only in Somalia, Egypt and Mali, Senegal, but even among some communities who have migrated to Europe and North America.

And FGM is not something that can simply be considered in the abstract, as a problem of developing countries that affects the UK only in terms of providing foreign aid.

Headlines this week also revealed that girls in the UK are more at risk of FGM that in any other European country.

The practice of FGM was outlawed in Britain in 1995, and in 2003 the Female Genital Mutilation Act was introduced which also ‘makes it illegal to take girls who are British nationals or permanent residents of the UK abroad for FGM whether or not it is lawful in that country’.

However, the fear is that many families who have settled in the UK are still sending their daughters back to their home countries to have FGM procedures carried out.

According to new research by the European Institute for Gender Equality, more than 65,000 women and girls in the UK have been subjected to FGM and a further 30,000 are thought to be at risk in the future.

But although police have investigating 148 cases in the last three years, there have been no successful prosecutions.

This is largely thought to be for cultural reasons, with taboos and fiercely upheld family traditions and controls firmly in place.

Speaking about FGM and the government’s £35 million pledge, UK International Development Minister Lynne Featherstone said, ‘FGM has been considered too taboo and, frankly, too difficult to tackle.  It is time to break the taboo.

‘Girls around the world have suffered a lifetime of damage, sometimes even death, as a result.’

Campaigners and charities groups say that education around human rights, challenging cultural norms and tackling gender violence are the key.

The Orchid Project and Tostan are two such groups, and Julia Lalla-Maharajh, founder of the Orchid Project, says that more than 6,000 communities around the world have already officially undertaken to end the barbaric mutilation of their women and girls.

So what of the UK’s multi-million pound pledge?

How does the government turn pound signs into significant and meaningful action?

Leyla Hussein, who runs the prevention charity Daughters of Eve, believes that the most crucial thing the government can do now is to make sure that there is no disconnect between legislative policy and the lived experience of FGM.

She wants the government to work hand in hand with organisations and individuals who have frontline and first-hand experience of FGM.

‘Speak to women like me’, she says, ‘I know what I’ve gone through.’

‘Frequently victims of FGM are used just to tell the story, but not as part of the decision making process’.

Given that most of us are fortunate enough to only ever experience FGM by reading about it, she has made perhaps the most valid point for the UK’s participation in eradicating this unimaginable violation.

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