UK - Equality Now named Secretariat of first UK All Party Parliamentary Group to Address Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)
Pioneering, anti-FGM Activist Efua Dorkenoo Presents the Issues and Challenges Faced by those Working to Eliminate FGM at the Ground-breaking Launch
London, England – On 7 December 2011, Equality Now was named Secretariat of the newly-launched cross party Parliamentary body focusing exclusively on addressing the harmful practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) in the United Kingdom. Co-sponsored by Jane Ellison MP for Battersea and Valerie Vaz MP for Walsall South, the UK All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on FGM, comprised of more than 50 MP’s and Peers representing all the main political parties, will work with the government and NGO’s to raise awareness of the issue in the UK and abroad and create an actionable strategy to prevent and eliminate the practice.
As a Secretariat, Equality Now, which holds consultative status with the United Nations ECOSOC, will bring nearly 20 years of expertise and influence working on this issue at a global level to the APPG. Advocacy Director for the organization’s FGM Programme, Efua Dorkenoo, OBE, has been advising MP Ellison and spoke at the December launch to inform attendees of developments on the issue since the 1980s, detailed the challenges faced by anti-FGM activists and made recommendations for steps that can be taken to overcome them. Her presentation included: statistics on FGM; a discussion of the inappropriate cultural assumptions which are contributing to the denial of justice for its largely minor victims; an examination of the obstacles to conducting a successful legal prosecution in the UK; the need for a proactive, multi-agency cross-sector approach that would allow for early intervention and prevention; and the need for increased development assistance to further actions against FGM in Africa.
Though FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985, no one has ever been prosecuted under its FGM Acts (1985, 2003) even though reporting on FGM has actually increased.1 A 2001 study estimated that 66,000 African women residing in England and Wales had undergone female genital mutilation and 23,000 girls in African communities under the age of 15 were at risk of FGM.2 After the meeting MP Ellison stated, “It is a privilege to be the Chairman of this new Group and I am really encouraged that so many colleagues have joined–we have to keep the momentum going on FGM. It is wrong that it happens anywhere in the world, but that it continues to happen to girls living in the UK is scandalous.” The Group will focus on the primary obstacles to eliminating the practice in the UK which include:
Strengthening the evidence base: Despite the aforementioned 2001 study, comprehensive data on the prevalence of female genital mutilation in the UK is not available. This lack of data is a major obstacle to monitoring progress towards ending FGM and puts the complex issue, intersecting gender, race and ethnicity, at risk of being sidestepped by mainstream services.
Confronting the lack of prosecutions despite the presence of medical evidence: To address this problem, the APPG will confront the practice of “cultural relativism,” whereby FGM tends to be written off as cultural or traditional practice in which the legal system should not intervene, as well as by addressing an evidentiary standard that largely relies on victims, frequently under the age of 10, to provide evidence, despite strong community pressure to remain silent on their abuse. “Because it largely affects girls from minority, ethnic and refugee communities, there can be a reluctance to intervene because of a perception that it is a cultural practice rather than violence against women and girls,” says Dorkenoo. “This faulty and reverse racist thought process often leads to inappropriate responses by health and legal professionals.”
Collaborating on systems and procedures that prevent FGM: Current responses to FGM are largely crisis-driven and reactive. By employing a proactive strategy, the Group will encourage multi-agency joined up work across child protection teams, education and health care sectors, as well as community outreach, to identify and respond to potential risks with an eye towards early prevention. As Dorkenoo pointed out, “the government is spending money treating the effects of female genital mutilation rather than addressing the cause. A model targeting girls at risk of FGM should be adopted to create a prevention-focused process that addresses the problem before it starts.”
FGM is a form of child abuse and a human rights violation that adversely affects the physical, sexual and emotional health of girls and women and relationships within families; tens of thousands of girls and women are at high risk or are living with the consequences of FGM in England and Wales. “It is Equality Now’s profound hope that this historic All Party Parliamentary Group will be successful in bringing the issue out into the open and creating a concrete plan to end FGM in the UK that can be used around the world. The laws and resources needed to stop this harmful and illegal practice are already in place, so there is no excuse for continuing to fail our girls,” stated Dorkenoo.
1. Sumanta Roy et al . “The missing Link – A joined up approach to
addressing Harmful Practices in London, Executive Summary”, GLA,
2. Efua Dorkenoo, Linda Morison and Alison Macfarlane. “A Statistical Study to Estimate the Prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation in England and Wales”, FORWARD, 2007.
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