Sunday, 5 August 2012

Female Genital Museum

Over the past two weeks, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has become a broad feature in the British media. As the founder of 28 Too Many Ann-Marie Wilson has successfully published an article in the Huffington Post on the number of children at risk of being subjected to FGM, The Independent has analysed what is known as ‘The UK’s Cutting Season’. Now that the British summer holidays are in full swing, around 25,000 girls are at risk of being subjected to FGM against their will. This year, Nigeria sponsored a resolution at the World Health Assembly to end FGM, yet the practice is still rampant across the country. As it is clear that FGM continues to be practiced worldwide, it is important to address what more could be done in countries like the UK and Nigeria, and how lessons can be learned from successful FGM intervention programs.

In the UK, laws exist to prevent the practice of FGM. The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 imposes penalties of up to 14 years in prison on those who practice FGM, and those who aid and abet occurrences of the crime. The 2003 act is an amendment of the previous 1985 act. Despite the act being introduced, not a single person has been prosecuted. It is clear that the act’s existence alone is not enough to prevent the crime from occurring, and that it is simply empty rhetoric in the battle against this atrocious crime. In order for any criminal act to be effective, the crime needs to be reported. As the practice of FGM is against children who are too young to have a voice, or too afraid to speak out, it is unlikely that they will step forward as victims. As the communities that practice FGM shroud the practice in secrecy, it is rare that anyone will speak out on the child’s behalf.. Until recently, FGM has continued to be an issue that is largely unheard of in the UK, with many leading politicians being unaware of what it involves, or even that it is practiced. In addition to this, the NHS does not offer reconstructive surgery to victims of the practice. Based on this, it is clear that the UK is failing to protect those who are at risk.

The UK’s failure to prevent FGM does not mean that the existence of legislation is always redundant. In France, over 100 prosecutions have been made, but there are stark differences between the way France approaches FGM, and the way the UK approaches it. It is believed that France’s successes are due to the annual health checks performed on young girls at risk across the country. These include a brief look at the external genitalia by a medical professional in specialised clinics until the age of six. Once the child begins attending school, these annual checks are continued by the school nurse. In addition to this, French campaigners have reported successfully placing injunctions on those who have been reported by family members for planning to mutilate their daughters. It could be argued that the tougher stance on those who have practiced FGM in France has acted as a deterrent. Alternatively, it could be that France’s determination to make the issue public raises enough awareness for communities to abandon the practice. A study by the University of Barcelona has demonstrated that France as a country have seen a reduction in the number of girls subjected to FGM. It could therefore be argued that the French’s determination to make FGM a public issue has created enough awareness to encourage communities to cessate the practice of it.

In contrast, the women of Nigeria have been subjected to the same horrors as those in the UK and France, but the practice of FGM is far more widespread, and harder to combat. It is estimated that in some areas, up to 56% of women have been subjected to FGM, while in others it is as low as 0.4%. In addition to this, experts believe that ‘official’ statistics are not a true reflection of those women who have not been reached by researchers, and therefore the real percentages may be higher. In a literature review conducted by the World Health Organisation (WHO), it was found that communities where interventions existed had seen a reduction in the practice of FGM. The WHO’s literature review focused on communities in Mali, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Nigeria, and Ethiopia. As well as finding that interventions in the form of educational sessions were effective, the WHO’s review detected barriers to making such interventions successful.. These barriers included a lack of financial compensation, as well as husbands refusing to grant their wives permission to attend educational sessions.

In order for FGM to be eradicated around the world, all countries need to take a unified and consistent stance. While legislation exists to protect women in countries like the UK, its existence alone is ineffective in preventing the crime. Human rights laws that focus on abuse and torture in Nigeria can be loosely interpreted to prosecute perpetrators of the crime, but areas where interventions do not exist witness an ever-increasing number of girls who are subjected to it. By establishing a sense of consistency, FGM can be universally wiped out.

So what is it that countries need to be consistent with? In addition to providing clear legislation, interventions and support for men and women who are interested in them are needed. Medical outreaches that focus on educating communities on the benefits of eradicating FGM should be expanded; this should focus on male members of the community, as well as female. By establishing a sense of unity against the issue across the world, practices such as taking children to other nations to undergo FGM can also be halted.

If you personally are interested in ending FGM, you can begin by writing to your local MP, congressman, or any other relevant governmental representative and ask them to do more to address the issue. The more our leaders are pushed to end the practice, the more likely it is they will do something about it. In addition to this, you can sign the following petitions to press world leaders to take a stand against FGM: - Europe - United States - United Kingdom - International

By Laura Mckeever

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