Girls are perfect, just as they are.
Yet over 125 million girls and women bear scars that suggest the contrary. Every minute five girls are held down and subjected to excruciating pain. Female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as female genital cutting (FGC), is the harmful practice of partially or totally removing a girl’s genitals. Girls who are cut face emotional trauma and long lasting health complications. It is a strange paradox that many celebrate ‘cutting season’ with big parties and lavish gifts. FGM is the norm for a large majority of the developing world.
Thanks to a new wave of media attention and two daring young women, I now understand more about FGM. This understanding began with Leyla Hussein’s BAFTA nominated film The Cruel Cut. From impassioned women’s rights activist and mother Leyla, I learned that FGM is happening right on my doorstep.
An estimated 23,000 British girls are at risk of being cut.
FGM is more prevalent than current figures suggest, due to immigration and the hidden nature of this crime. As global efforts to end FGM increase, so does concern for girls living outside of Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
Leyla and her friends have raised the profile of FGM worldwide. Like many others, I felt energised by her documentary. I wrote to a local FGM charity, Dignity Alert Research Forum (DARF). Fatou Baldeh responded to my request and told me her story. An FGM survivor at seven years old, she spoke affectionately of home in the Gambia and of her research into Britain’s National Health Service. She found that FGM is not being addressed during pregnancy and identified a need for more culturally sensitive obstetric care. One month later, on International Women’s Day, I joined the charity’s Board of Directors. Every DARF meeting and event has been educational and encouraging.
In the space of eight weeks, young women fighting FGM have achieved the extraordinary.
At the end of January, Fatou was invited to discuss FGM at the Scottish Parliament. This session prepared for a national inquiry into FGM. In February 2014 17-year-old Fahma Mohamed started a campaign attracting almost 250,000 signatures and persuaded the British government to prioritise FGM teaching in schools. Backed by Malala Yousafzai and UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon, Fahma and others from the youth charity Integrate Bristol say they will not stay quiet.
On 10 March, the UK Home Affairs Committee launched a new FGM inquiry with a debate made possible by Daughters of Eve founders Leyla Hussein and Nimco Ali. Later that same month, two landmark FGM cases hit the headlines. A doctor will stand trial for the first time in Egypt, for the death of a 13-year-old girl following an FGM operation and the UK saw its first FGM prosecutions.
It is not only young women and men in the UK putting a stop to FGM. From groups of women in Kurdistan to newlyweds in Tanzania, growing numbers are challenging the status quo. After being cut, girls take a vow of silence. Those brave enough to speak out against FGM, like Fatou, Fahma and Leyla, are truly inspirational. “We need people like you”, Fatou would say. Share this story with your friends and colleagues. Let’s work together to end FGM.