LibLink – Lynne Featherstone MP: Moving towards a world free from Female Genital Cutting

Today is the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation. Tonight, Home Office Minister Jeremy Browne will be giving a speech tonight (which we will bring you later) and Lynne Featherstone has written an article for the Huffington Post.

She will be taking part in an online discussion here at 12:45pm today.

First she outlined exactly why FGC is a problem.

FGC is a cultural practice involving the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia. In its most extreme form the external genitalia are cut out and the girl’s vagina sewn up, to be cut open on her wedding night and for each birth. It’s commonly done by a village elder or family member – often without anaesthetic or surgical equipment.

The effect can be devastating, causing severe, life-long physical problems and sometimes even death. Yet, according to the World Health Organisation, more than 100 million women - including in the UK - have undergone the practice and an estimated three million girls are at risk each year in Africa alone.

She wrote about how the UK Government is working to end it:

The UK is committed to playing its part in supporting these African efforts to end FGC. We are developing a major new regional programme to support efforts to end the practice in many countries across West and East Africa and beyond. In addition in Sudan, which has one of the highest rates of FGC in the world, we are working on a long term programme to support national efforts to end the practice.

But the scale and the nature of FGC is such that UK government action alone will not be enough. As the Government’s International Champion on Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Overseas I want to see FGC recognised internationally as part of the mainstream development agenda and for other countries and donors to be supporting the elimination of this practice.

You can read the whole article here.

* Caron Lindsay is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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10 Comments

  • daft ha'p'orth 6th Feb '13 - 12:32pm

    The recommended term is FGM: Female Genital Mutilation (or, if you really must, FGM/C). The WHO have explicitly recommended that this term be used in preference to Female Genital Cutting, explaining that “the word ‘mutilation’ emphasizes the gravity of the act.” The only real reason to call it FGC is in order to avoid appearing judgemental about the practice, which given the content of this post it appears that you, quite correctly, do not intend to do :-)

  • Richard Dean 6th Feb '13 - 1:47pm

    Horrible though this practice is, there is presumably someone somewhere who believes it is the right thing to do, and who would argue that case if allowed to.

    Unless we understand who those people are, and unless we can develop counter-arguments that can convince, not just ourselves, but those people too, and the people they influence, I suspect we will be fighting a tide that keeps coming back again and again.

    So, what are the reasons or arguments that people give to support the practice?

  • I think both “cutting” and “mutilation” sound sufficiently horrible that either could be appropriately used for this obnoxious and detestable practice.

    Richard, the arguments for FGM amount to the following:
    * It’s a custom that’s always been done, a powerful monument of cultural heritage
    * It is a celebration of womanhood
    * It makes women’s genitals cleaner and more attractive
    * It makes male penetration easier
    * Women don’t need orgasms anyway
    * Opposition to FGM is racist and imperialistic

    I’m afraid the need to keep my last meal in my stomach doesn’t allow me to research this question any more.

  • Richard Dean 6th Feb '13 - 3:23pm

    Ok, David, thanks. and also perhaps

    > it prevents the kind of social problems that arise when women have control/are free/have orgasms
    > it’s just the same as circumcision for men, so why are you objecting?

    It seems that many cutters are women, by the way. How should we go about convincing a person who believes those arguments that they are in error? We need to start from where they are and go in steps, otherwise the counter-arguments won’t catch..

  • Thanks Caron! I’m delighted that Rosa, (www.rosauk.org) the charity I head up, is part of a £1.6 million project to tackle FGM in the UK which has been announced today!

  • When are we going to start talking about the crimes of Male Genital Mutilation? What’s that? We’re not going to because Americans and Jews do it? Oh, OK then. End of argument.

  • daft h'a'porth 6th Feb '13 - 10:31pm

    @MBoy
    “When are we going to start talking about the crimes of Male Genital Mutilation? ”
    I would agree to a small extent, except that there are significant differences in the health effects of the two. I don’t know whether you’ve read the literature on FGM, but it’s:
    1. often done on girls in their teens, unanaesthetised, with, um, improvised surgical instruments
    2. at the most minimal tends to involve removal of the clitoris and often involves removal of the outer labia as well.
    3. includes sewing the girl’s vagina shut. They leave a little hole for urine and blood, of course, but upon marriage, the first job is to cut the poor woman open again so hubby can get his kicks.
    4. Is unsurprisingly a massive cause of death in childbirth – both the mother and child are at risk.
    Imagine the infections. Imagine your sex life. Imagine childbirth when your vagina has been reduced to a scarred, bleeding wound.

    There are reasons why the WHO treats FGM as it does. You’re far less likely to die young as a result of MGM than FGM. Male circumcision is concerning primarily because of lack of informed consent and the unnecessary risk of the surgery., whilst FGM is firmly in ‘why the hell would you do anything so utterly stupid and destructive?’ territory, right alongside the guys who have sex with virgins in the firm belief that it will cure their HIV.

  • Actually the large majority of FGM is less extreme and consists of trimming the labia minora in a way that is exactly analogous to male circumcision. But then, the large majority of FGM actually occurs *outside* Africa, in countries like Indonesia, which is something that FGM campaigners seem strangely unwilling to accept. It’s as though the FGM campaign is deliberately steering away from upsetting countries like Indonesia and Egypt (where >95% of all women are circumcised) because they are afraid of the argument it will stir up.

  • I agree Peter, but the very thing that stops the passing of a very simple law against the mutilation of children is that people are afraid of tackling the male circumcision problem. How do you explain to someone who was circumcised themselves that cutting a baby girl is absolutely wrong, when you defend the right of people to cut baby boys? It is illogical, inconsistent, and massively weakens the arguments against genital mutilation.

    FGM will never be stopped until male circumcision is brought into the debate and tackled in its own right.

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