Published on July 31st, 2014 |
by Charles Fleetham
Image © Prime Minister David Cameron during his keynote speech at the Conservative Party Conference at International Convention Centre in Birmingham. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday October 10, 2012. Photo credit should read: Rui Vieira /PA Wire
Fighting Female Genital Mutilation in the UK
On the 22nd of July 2014 the United Kingdom hosted the first international Girl Summit, a meeting of esteemed individuals from across the globe with the aim of ending Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage in the next generation. For those unfamiliar with FGM, it is the process in which the woman’s external genitals, such as the clitoris, are removed – often in unsanitary conditions without proper medical equipment. It is a painful, unnecessary and unsafe process for a woman to undergo. Unfortunately in many countries across Africa and the Middle East it is traditional and part of the social norms of the local community, with the women who have not been ‘cut’ being shunned as unclean. Whilst we can hope that the culture in these countries will change eventually, this article will focus on the immediate and more optimistic change in the UK.
As a country that has previously had high immigration rates from African nations, we have a large diaspora population that believes removing a woman’s genitals is still necessary. This is an unfortunate consequence of allowing immigration; whilst we may be inheriting positive cultural change from various corners of the world, we also inherit the distasteful cultural practices such as FGM. Despite the fact that FGM has been outlawed since 1985 under the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act, replaced in 2003 by the Female Genital Mutilation Act, the practice has continued in private. Regardless of this legislation very few convictions have been made in regards to FGM, with only one recorded case so far. However, Forward UK estimates that as many as 6,500 girls in the UK are at risk every year. The NHS estimates are significantly higher, stating that over 20,000 girls are at risk and that 66,000 women are living with the consequences of FGM in the UK. The long term consequences can consist of chronic vaginal and pelvic infections, urinary infections, kidney failure, possible infertility, cysts, and sexual issues. The NHS website has a full list of immediate and long term consequences, alongside useful links for FGM with organisations you can seek help from.
Beyond the obvious physical issues with FGM, there is the mental damage that can be done to a woman as the results of a violent, and unnecessary, trauma. Moreover, this is a human rights issue. It is a fundamental human right that every human being has control of their own body, we can not be forced into pregnancy, marriage, or mutilation. That citizens living within the UK are having their human rights actively violated is abhorrent, and that the violation is such a completely unnecessary procedure is even more disturbing. As a signatory to multiple international human rights treaties it is the duty of the UK to protect anyone living within our borders from human rights violations, as well as campaigning to end these abuses abroad.
On the 22nd of July David Cameron announced new legislation that would target parents if they failed to prevent their daughter being cut, or were to force their daughter into FGM. Cameron has also announced a £1.4 million prevention programme which would also seek to provide support and care to survivors. Finally, a specialist FGM unit would be created similar to the Forced Marriage unit already in existence. This has been a key demand by campaigners and can be seen as a significant victory in the fight against FGM in the UK.
It has become increasingly evident that current legislation has not prevented the continued practice of FGM in the UK. It is the hope of the Government that a new special FGM unit, more aggressive legislation and more police guidance will finally begin to reduce the practice. However, there is the argument that these types of social norms cannot be changed immediately, that it will take an sustained effort from all sides over a long duration of time to stamp out FGM in the UK. I can only hope that the independent groups such as Forward UK, and the leading parties in Westminster will be relentless in their pursuit of ending this repugnant and misogynistic practice.
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