However, more work needs to be done to address the roots of this terrible crime
In a historic trial, a woman became the first person in the UK to be convicted for female genital mutilation (FGM) after evidence was found to implicate her in her 3-year-old daughter’s mutilation. She now faces up to 14 years in prison for her role in a crime that has been outlawed in the UK since 1985, yet has seen the failure of previous prosecutions.
We at JAN Trust stand firmly against gender- and honour-based violence and are delighted by the news. FGM is a procedure that involves the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. Leethen Bartholomew, head of the National FGM Centre in the UK, spoke up about the lifelong impact this traumatising practice has on survivors, “both physically and psychologically.”
Other activists have spoken out in support of the conviction including Hibo Wardere, who was only 6 years old when she was subjected to FGM by her mother. Wardere wrote a memoir about her traumatic experience and her subsequent activism, Cut: One Woman’s Fight Against FGM in Britain Today, and spoke on BBC Woman’s Hour this week about her feelings regarding the conviction. “I never thought I’d see it in my day,” she admitted. “The UK has showed that children have rights, they are respected and they will be protected. It doesn’t matter what community you come from. You will be held accountable.”
Wardere’s initial misgivings about FGM prosecutions are certainly grounded, for it appears that there is a lack of prosecution of FGM cases in the UK. Figures seen by the Victoria Derbyshire programme show that 939 calls were made to emergency services to report FGM between 2014 and 2018, but the Crown Prosecution Service only received 36 referrals from the police since 2010.
There are a number of factors that could explain this discrepancy. A lot of young girls risk being ostracised if they speak up about their experiences and are often reluctant to turn their family members in to the police. Teachers and law enforcement officials are also wary of stepping in, acutely aware of the cultural dimension of the issue. They are often worried about being labelled “racist” for criticizing a culturally-rooted and widespread practice, despite its obvious harm. Another alarming trend that makes prosecution of these crimes even more difficult is that FGM is increasingly being performed on babies and infants, according to the Victoria Derbyshire Programme. This makes FGM almost impossible to detect, according to FGM expert and barrister Dr Charlotte Proudman, who remarks that victims are as a result “unable to report, the cut heals quicker and prosecution is much harder once evidence comes to light and the girl is older.”
The National FGM Centre said that preventing FGM required kick-starting “a huge cultural shift in groups where FGM is commonly practised.” By educating communities on the enduring harms of this practice, such as severe bleeding, infections, complications in childbirth and even increased risk of newborn deaths, as well as challenging the misconception that FGM can be used to reduce the libido of a woman and thus her chances of “dishonouring” her family by engaging in extramarital sexual encounters, this strategy would address the root of the problem rather than simply treating victims or holding perpetrators accountable after the fact.
At JAN Trust, our project Against FGM is guided by the same logic. We hope to create this cultural shift by providing workshops in schools, universities and communities to raise awareness about the harms of FGM, to help students and teachers recognise instances of FGM and to support victims. In the last 5 years, we have delivered over 400 school sessions to this end, which means we have worked with over 40,000 youth and practitioners across the UK. We are proud to be contributing to the momentum of the movement against FGM, and will continue our fight to educate and empower communities to halt this traumatizing practice.
For more information about our work to address FGM, please visit our website here: https://jantrust.org/project/against-fgm/.