The purpose of our blog is to discuss topical issues, stories, and situations, as well as to share what we are up to and new ways for you to get involved. We are always searching for possible answers to the question: Why is a girl's worth culturally and historically relative?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Female Genital Mutilation: hidden horror in our UK communities

Female Genital Mutilation
Image from Medscope

According to some traditional beliefs, female circumcision is part of becoming a woman – it reduces a girl’s sexual urges, thus ensuring a virgin bride and a faithful wife. The truth about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), however, is one of brutal disfigurement carried out on young girls who are often too young to understand what is happening. These girls grow up scarred in every possible sense.

The girls are left feeling “different” and have very real physical problems when embarking on a sexual relationship: removing the clitoris means that sexual pleasure is diminished or non-existent; the stitching of the vaginal opening can make sexual intercourse painful or even impossible; and the dangers of giving birth are increased, with many mothers requiring emergency treatment.

I have always thought of FGM as an atrocious crime against women carried out in faraway places, but a recent TV report by Sue Lloyd Roberts for BBC’s Newsnight reveals that this brutal circumcision is being carried out on girls in UK towns and cities. One victim of FGM, 23 year old Ayanna, told the BBC’s reporter that she knew of girls as young as two weeks old being cut with scissors and knives by “the elder women.” Ayanna lives in Glasgow – a city where I lived for many years during my university studies. I find it appalling to think that this is going on in a place I once called home.

A further revelation which I find truly horrendous is that the UK is becoming a FGM tourist destination, with families in France sending their girls over the Channel to be cut. French FGM activist, Isabelle Gillette-Faye, puts this down to the difference in the countries approach to immigrants. France has a strict integration policy, with mothers and baby girls attending compulsory clinics to check for possible mutilation. Although some may see the policy of targeting of girls from “high-risk” ethnic minorities as racist, it is clearly having a greater success than the UK’s lack of cultural intervention. French girls who have been mutilated find that there is a support network on offer with psychological counselling and the possibility of getting reconstructive surgery.

The UK does have 17 FGM specialist clinics, but they are now overwhelmed by the high numbers of immigrants and refugees. More support is needed and the government is scared to address the issue. FGM was made illegal nearly 30 years ago. With the practice continuing in our own towns, it is shocking that there has never been a prosecution for FGM. Hopefully, with this shocking report, public awareness of Female Genital Mutilation will grow. The Home Office has recently released a pocket guide which details the illegality of this abuse in the UK.

Female Genital Mutilation is a cultural cruelty which can no longer hide behind the shield of tradition. Change needs to happen within the immigrant community and education has to be at the heart of that. We need to acknowledge that the problem is happening and involve the women and girls, as well as the men, in promoting a healthy, abuse-free, female sexuality.

Sue Lloyd Roberts’ report for the BBC’s Newsnight programme is available for viewers in the UK to watch here.

-Vhari Finch
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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