28 July 2015

As a student in the UK, is FGM impersonal and am I helpless?

Guest blog by Tamsyn Radmall.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or Cutting (C) is something that I knew very little about before starting my summer placement with 28 Too Many, which is an anti-FGM charity. I thought FGM was an impersonal topic to me as student in the UK and I thought I was powerless to do anything about it. However, I have been proven to be extraordinarily wrong. 

I am a student at Edinburgh University studying Philosophy and Theology. I love to debate and discuss the meaning of  truth, love and goodness, which is useful because this is necessary for my course. But I am also passionate about applying this to the world we live in. What does it look like to share truth with people, to be loving to people and be an example of goodness to others. Therefore I’m interested in getting involved in outreach projects in the city, looking for ways to help the weak and vulnerable. I am passionate about looking beyond the student bubble into the communities that we wouldn’t naturally interact with in order to see where we could help. Not standing by and letting other people suffer in silence but standing with them in defiance, ready to say that enough is enough. 

This is what drew me to 28 Too Many.  I wanted to learn about something that had been a big topic within the charity sector, the media and politics. I knew very little, but I was excited for the challenge to stretch myself in learning about a people group in society that were vulnerable, and that I didn’t quite understand yet. 

FGM is defined by the WHO as referring to all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. FGM is a form of gender-based violence and has been recognized as a harmful practice and a violation of the human rights of girls and women. Between 100 and 140 million girls and women in the world are estimated to have undergone such procedures, and 3 million girls are estimated to be at risk of undergoing the procedures every year. 

The Home Office states that there are many varying reasons for the procedure depending on the geographical area in question. Some say it is their cultural practice or that it’s a traditional rite of passage from childhood to adulthood. Some say that the genital organs aren’t visually appealing and unclean and therefore need to be cut. Others hold the view that the clitoris is evil and it causes daughters to be rebellious, therefore FGM ensures you to have a pure daughter that stays at home. In many communities you are prohibited from getting married unless this procedure has been done. But the main reason is for the men to have control over women and to desexualize them. Some of the ramifications of FGM are; menstrual obstruction, severe pain and shock, post traumatic stress disorder, HIV, hepatitis or urinary infection and in the worst cases death. Some of the short-term affects may be resolved however the long-term psychological trauma will never be forgotten. 

As I said previously, two main thoughts have struck me while I have been working with the charity that I would like to share with you. Firstly, FGM is not an impersonal topic; it is not something we should switch off from because of a misconception of it being a crime that is too far off for us to have any personal attachment to it. Secondly, it is not a crime that we are powerless in helping with. 

FGM is a crime that affects many vulnerable young girls in the UK. This has been a hidden topic that hasn’t been spoken about among affected women in the UK because of a wrong idea that it is shameful, or the worse idea that it isn’t wrong and therefore does not need to be discussed. Just because it hasn’t, at points, been a topic that has been openly discussed among victims does not mean there are no victims. This is a real and relevant issue within the UK. This is evident by looking at the estimated statistics. According to Equality Now’s 2014 statistics 137,000 women and girls who have been affected by FGM were permanent resident in England and Wales in 2011. Furthermore, the NSPCC states that there is estimated to be over 23,000 girls under the age of 15 at risk in the UK of FGM each year. New data released this week to coincide with the one year anniversary of the Girl Summit show that girls and women who had undergone FGM are living in all parts of England and Wales. Are we going to brush past this and pretend that it isn’t an issue or are we going to choose to open our eyes and realize that this is a personal topic? 

Secondly, we as students and those who are residents of the UK are not helpless in this area.  We can make a difference in helping to defend vulnerable women and girls who are at risk of being cut. We can help in raising awareness, by putting on events, by fundraising or just telling your friends about this hurtful procedure. But there is an easy accessible way to help that was used this week. We can keep our eyes open and report to the police any suspicions about women or girls who are trying to travel in the summer holidays. the Police are working with the Border Agency and UK airports to help identify and protect girls being taken overseas for FGM this summer. The Bedfordshire police recently secured the UK’s first FGM protection order, which allowed two girls to be prohibited from travelling to Africa, and therefore protected them from undergoing FGM. Everyone in the UK needs to be aware of this crime, realise it is a real and relevant issue in the UK and report any suspicious behavior in this cutting season.  

Therefore, this topic isn’t impersonal because it has affected a large number of UK residents and could affect many more. It is also not a topic we should feel helpless about. We can see an example that happened just this week of a woman who made a difference. FGM is a crime and the victims are deeply affected for their whole lives because of it. This is not something to be trivial about and we as students or residents of the UK should not disassociate from this issue but realise its brutality and speak up and protect the vulnerable in our society. 

If you want to take action, you can learn more about 28 Too Many's work to end FGM and how you can help at www.28toomany.org. You can donate to support our research and campaigns and follow us on Facebook for updates on the global movement to end FGM.