Lynne Featherstone on giving women “rights, voice, choice and control over their own lives”

Lynne Feahterstone visiting a Haringey primary school. Some rights reserved. was International Development questions in the Commons yesterday. Lynne Featherstone was questioned about her work to end Female Genital Mutilation in a generation. She said that the subject should be a required subject on the school curriculum in areas of high prevalence. What I thought was most interesting was that in my young day, you didn’t get Tory dames asking questions about gender equality as Dame Angela Watkinson did. I liked Lynne’s choice of language in her answer. The whole segment is copied below from Hansard:

Lynne Featherstone: Female genital mutilation is violence against women and girls. The UK has made the largest donor commitment ever to help end FGM, with a flagship programme of £35 million in at least 17 countries. The Prime Minister will host a summit in July that will step up global efforts to end both FGM and child, early and forced marriage within a generation.

Dr Huppert: I thank my hon. Friend for her comments and her efforts on this. Does she agree with many of the people who have given evidence to the Select Committee on Home Affairs saying that we should ensure all children in the UK are taught about FGM and the fact that it is not allowed, and that we should not allow parents to take their children out of such classes, because children whose parents would not want them to know are exactly the children we need to target?

Lynne Featherstone: I thank my hon. Friend. He raises a critical issue. When I went to Burkina Faso, one of the leading countries in Africa in tackling and reducing FGM, I visited a school to watch an FGM lesson. It is part of the curriculum there, and I do believe that this needs to be a required part of the curriculum here in high-prevalence areas. In a recent speech on development, the Deputy Prime Minister made a commitment both to this and to giving support to the front-line professionals, because we know from the helpline of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children that professionals need support and training.

Dame Angela Watkinson (Hornchurch and Upminster) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that female genital mutilation is part of a much wider issue of cultures where gender equality is not recognised, and will she take every opportunity possible when contacting countries where this applies to further the cause of gender equality?

Lynne Featherstone: I thank my hon. Friend for that question and I can assure her that I do take every opportunity to raise the issue, because these social norms, which oppress and suppress women and have been going for 4,000 years, are really because of women’s low status in the world in terms of rights and of voice, choice and control over their own lives.




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  • Jayne Mansfield 19th Jun '14 - 10:36pm

    I am sorry to be cynical but I would be more prepared to accept that Female Gender Mutilation in other countries could be halted if we had been successful in preventing the abuse of British children.

    How is female inequality in other cultures going to be tackled given cultural sensitivities? I attended a lecture on Female Genital Mutilation in 1990 ,and since then I have seen no real will to prevent it happening here let alone abroad.

    I recommend that everyone who has not already seen it, watch Channel 4’s ‘ The Cruel Cut’ still available on the internet. I would also ask that people consider signing Leyla Hussein’s petition.

  • lynne featherstone 20th Jun '14 - 9:25am

    Well – for the first time in our history – it is at the top of the political agenda here. And even more to the point – the DFID program rows in behind the African led movement where 25 countries in Africa have now made FGM illegal. The African Union took a resolution to the United Nations which was passed in December 2012 banning it world wide. That is why we can support that movement – and help our own girls who are at risk. We can’t end it here – if we don’t end it there. ANd we do work with Leyla Hussein, Nimko Ali and others – who campaigned for many years and brought us to this point of real opportunity for change.

  • Helen Tedcastle 20th Jun '14 - 10:39am

    @ Lynne Featherstone

    ” Lynne Featherstone was questioned about her work to end Female Genital Mutilation in a generation. She said that the subject should be a required subject on the school curriculum in areas of high prevalence.”

    While I agree that young girls who are vulnerable to this cultural practice should be targeted with information and help, I cannot help but wonder how government ministers think school teachers are going to teach this subject. School teachers are subject specialists ie: in History, Drama, not medical practitioners or skilled in the issues of FGM.

    Why is it that members of this government and it’s enforcement arm, Ofsted, simply pile initiative after initiative on schools without thinking through how or who is going to deliver it?

    Surely it is not appropriate for teachers to deliver this but specialists in the field – so it should not become yet another topic on the curriculum alongside Gove’s ‘British values’ wheeze.

    Imposing British values and more elitism in school sport are just two of the ‘reactions to events’ dreamed up on the back of an envelope in the past few days for schools to deal with – now today, there’s this.

  • Jayne Mansfield 20th Jun '14 - 12:02pm

    @ Lynne Featherstone,
    Thank you for your response. I find it intolerable that this form of child abuse has been allowed, ( and I use the word advisably) for so long. Women in this country have been suffering repeated urine infections, suffered infertility and given birth and yet no-one seems to have cared enough to inform the authorities when the mutilation they have suffered has been noted. I am afraid that I blame a so called ‘right on’ attitude by left -leaning women liberal types in power for its existence for so long. Good luck with tackling it.

    @ Helen
    It never ceases to amaze me how much teachers are supposed to adopt as part of their role. Any problem is society – pass it on to a teacher to solve it. Perhaps Gove’s next brainchild will be boarding Free Schools with no holidays. ( What we used to call children’s homes).

    In the Channel 4 programme, the person who did the teaching was a victim who visited the school. This for me was the most powerful method of teaching, although it still means making time in the school day for these lessons to be held.

  • Helen Tedcastle 20th Jun '14 - 12:32pm

    @ Jayne Mansfield: I agree with your comment. I think a speaker is a very powerful way of highlighting the issue in schools and if followed up with a workshop led by skilled and knowledgeable people, (experts brought in), this could be an effective way of education.

    However, that is not what appears to be suggested. It will simply be another item added to the long list of ‘government initiatives’ without any money for schools and hard-pressed teachers to deal with in personal, social and health education.

    The government should give schools some resources to fund speakers and workshops instead of offloading onto teachers, (who are subject and pastorally trained but are not jacks of all trades), as a cheap option.

    FGM is a very sensitive cultural and medical issue and it has to be handled by people who have training and experience.

    Last week it was ‘British values’, this week, FGM. Next week, who knows?

  • Stephen Hesketh 20th Jun '14 - 1:08pm

    Thank you for your continuing efforts in this field Lynne.

    I cannot envisage any circumstances under which FGM is acceptable. Making girls aware of the practice by any means available to us should be used if we are bring it to an end. In the UK I would publicise it amongst girls of the appropriate age, their parents and guardians and go so far as to include automatic prison sentences and deportation of non-UK citizens for those adults taking part in the practice. Immigrants arriving from societies where the practice is prevailent should be told that it is illegal in the UK.

    I too support the Channel 4 approach of employing specially trained victims to undertake the education and that this should come out of central funds (?health/home office/education).

    I would also like to see a commitment to bringing an end to the practice in next years manifesto.

  • Jayne Mansfield 20th Jun '14 - 1:10pm

    @ Helen Tedcastle,
    Well, next week we could do something really effective. We could start listening to feminists including Islamic feminists and start disentangling medieval male mysogynist thinking from religion.

    In my opinion, we, as a liberal democratic nation have allowed some unacceptable cultural practices to continue because it is claimed to be a tenet of religion. As individuals we should have spoken up instead of accepting the dominant male interpretation of our holy books. Passing the problem over to school teachers is the easy option.

  • Jayne Mansfield 20th Jun '14 - 1:20pm

    @ Stephen Hesketh,
    The problem is that it is often the grannies who are most committed to this practice. It is also extremely difficult for the children because they love their families and don’t want to get them into trouble.

    In my opinion, what we need is a legal system where the victim does not have to give evidence against the parent in a court of law for a prosecution to take place. The case should be brought by those who have noted the mutilation, doctors, nurses, midwives etc.

    Unless radical action is taken, there will be the continued uttering of platitudes and continued suffering.

  • Helen Tedcastle 20th Jun '14 - 1:36pm

    @ Jayne Mansfield

    I want FGM stopped as much as you do but I don’t think that launching another general attack of ‘secular liberals’ with our assumed superior values on to those who are Muslim steeped in another culture, is the way to go about it.

    This issue needs to be handled with knowledge, care and respect, even if we don’t share either the religion or culture. After all that to me, is what Liberalism is about.

  • Jayne Mansfield 20th Jun '14 - 2:18pm

    @ Helen,
    I am sorry if I come across as launching an attack on Muslims. In fact I am criticising the fact that a cultural practice is accepted as a religious practice. Historically, Islam was at the forefront of women’s rights.

    I am attacking a barbaric practice because I actually care what these girls suffer and I don’t give a fig what culture they come from. When has cultural sensitivity meant turning one’s back on cruelty masqueraded as a cultural right?

    Were women’s rights in Britain won through cultural sensitivity?

  • Stephen Hesketh 20th Jun '14 - 6:57pm

    … which is why it has to start with a widespread culturally sensitive but very firm message, probably multi-lingual and multi-media with the hope of reaching the parents, the perpetrators of these horrors and the girls involved or yet to be involved that the practice is not normal in the UK and that it is certainly not acceptable.

    Practices such as general corruption, forced marriages, slavery, honour killings, the rape and hanging of young women etc are, as a minimum, socially tolerated in various other cultures and religions but I don’t believe we would tolerate them in the UK on any grounds. FGM is in the same category.

    British culture included going to the pub smoking and drinking all night then getting in the car and driving home drunk. Laws and education have changed that culture. Beating ones wife, child labour, cock-fighting, public hangings, the list could go on and on.

    It is as simple as being the law of the land – laws that we choose to either obey or face the consequences for not doing so.

  • Stuart Mitchell 20th Jun '14 - 8:09pm

    @Jayne Mansfield
    “I am sorry if I come across as launching an attack on Muslims”

    You do not come across that way and you have nothing to be sorry for. Excellent posts. I’m sure the vast majority of British Muslims are every bit as revolted by this practise as any other religious or ethnic group, so I’m not sure why Helen has tried to steer this to the usual debate about Islamophobia.

  • Jayne Mansfield 20th Jun '14 - 8:34pm

    @ Stephen Hesketh,
    By suggesting that Female Genital Mutilation is tolerated in some cultures, you are failing to note that it is not tolerated by some sections of that culture but their voices are not heard. I first became aware of FGM through an organisation called Forward a couple of decades ago.

  • Stephen Hesketh 20th Jun '14 - 8:49pm

    Jayne Mansfield 20th Jun ’14 – 8:34pm Apologies for being so late to the cause. Perhaps I should keep my nose out?

    Just for the record, I was not saying these things were universally accepted anywhere. I was attempting through my examples to show that many cultures, irrespective of faith, treat women and girls badly. I used a UK example to show how something as ‘British’ as poisoning the air in a bar, getting drunk and then driving home endangering everyone else was considered the norm only a decade or so ago but that any attitude can be challenged and changed.

    Perhaps you could revisit my post?

  • Jayne Mansfield 20th Jun '14 - 10:04pm

    @ Stephen Hesketh,
    Male feminists are important so keep please keep your nose in. I apologise if I misread or misunderstood what you were saying.

    The reason that FGM has been such a sensitive issue is that it has been used by people with an anti-Muslim agenda as yet another stick to beat British Muslims. The practice is, according to the Muslim Council of Britain, un-Islamic.

    Lynne Featherstone is correct that this is a global problem, but few of us can tackle the global problem. What we can do is tackle what is happening closer to home. The issue for me is one of child protection , and belatedly, guidelines have now been created for health care workers with reminders to them that they cannot pick and choose which forms of child abuse they will or will not report.

  • Eddie Sammon 20th Jun '14 - 10:28pm

    From my experience the problem with the FGM debate is that people have started to make out that foreign men are a bunch of savages. We’ve seen the same sort of behaviour with the rape war summit – of course these things should be tackled, but the overall picture cannot be painted as one of men out to get women, especially foreign men.


  • Richard Dean 20th Jun '14 - 10:54pm

    @Eddie Sammon

    You may be interested in this:

    which includes this:

    Practitioners form “secret societies”–which Koso-Thomas says exclude men and intact, non-mutilated women–and are widely seen as influential. Cuttings are carried out in secrecy by the women and the procedure itself is not discussed with outsiders.

    Politicians routinely try to win the support of these societies, says Laurel Bangura, another anti-FGM campaigner based in Freetown, by offering to pay for the mutilation of girls and to win the votes and support of their parents.

  • Eddie Sammon 20th Jun '14 - 11:07pm

    I felt let down when I campaigned against FGM and then found out all cases weren’t the worst kind. This is my complaint.

  • Eddie Sammon 20th Jun '14 - 11:09pm

    Thanks Richard, although I don’t have time to read it right now (under pressure).

  • Stuart Mitchell 20th Jun '14 - 11:12pm

    Good to see faith groups so united on this today :-

    I often criticise religious groups for their illiberality but at least on this issue they seem to be getting their act together. I also often criticise Lynne Featherstone but she deserves enormous credit for this.

  • Eddie Sammon 20th Jun '14 - 11:18pm

    By the way, an FGM campaign with some errors in it is better than none at all, but the errors need to be sorted out if they haven’t already. Thanks for your work on this, Lynne.

  • Helen Tedcastle 21st Jun '14 - 12:01pm

    Jayne Mansfield
    ” In fact I am criticising the fact that a cultural practice is accepted as a religious practice. Historically, Islam was at the forefront of women’s rights.”

    I didn’t think you were launching an attack on Muslims but were pointing out the link to patriarchal religion – a feminist perspective.

    I think we are both in strong agreement that FGM is a barbaric cultural practice, which, although not in Islamic precepts or teachings, is often conflated with it by those practising FGM. This is down to a lack of understanding of the principles of Islam (you rightly say that Islam gave women rights they didn’t have) by uneducated or misinformed people.

    It is of great assistance to young girls in danger if they have members of their own faith condemning FGM from a Muslim perspective – this is very powerful and more powerful than westerners telling them what to do.

    Sadly, it also suits the agenda of some anti-muslim/religious elements in the west to conflate a an overwhelmingly cultural practice with the precepts of a religion. That’s why I mentioned it, Stuart Mitchell.

  • Stuart Mitchell 21st Jun '14 - 1:40pm

    @Helen Tedcastle
    “Sadly, it also suits the agenda of some anti-muslim/religious elements in the west to conflate a an overwhelmingly cultural practice with the precepts of a religion.”

    True, which unfortunately makes it very difficult to even discuss the links between FGM and Islam without being accused of exploiting it for reasons of Islamophobia. But that is in itself sad, because those links certainly exist, and one doesn’t tackle a problem by pretending that it doesn’t exist. Before you tackle a problem you need to understand what the problem is.

    FGM may have its roots in culture and predate Islam by thousands of years, but the fact is that several hadith do in fact say positive things about it (contrary to your claim), and this must be at least part of the reason why FGM is almost unheard of outside Islamic communities in the modern world; people do tend to get very enthusiastic about things if they believe they are acting piously. The vast majority of Islamic scholars agree that FGM is anti-Islamic (for complicated reasons of hadith validity that I won’t go in to), but unfortunately there are still a small minority that rely on the disputed hadith to justify their cultural practises. So it’s absolutely right that Islamic scholars should be taking a key role in fighting FGM, and to their credit they are doing that.

    “It is of great assistance to young girls in danger if they have members of their own faith condemning FGM from a Muslim perspective – this is very powerful and more powerful than westerners telling them what to do.”

    While this is probably true – don’t you think it’s really sad? Imagine this argument the other way round, with someone saying that non-Islamic children should be receiving important life lessons from non-Islamic teachers only. Most people, me included, would find that pretty awful. If we all had equal respect for other people’s religions and cultures, why would it matter who teaches this stuff to kids, so long as they’re saying the right things?

  • Jayne Mansfield 21st Jun '14 - 2:00pm

    @ Helen Tedcastle,
    I think we are in absolute agreement on the matter, indeed, even to the point of acknowledging that the conflation of the practice which pre- dated Islam suits both those who have an agenda other than child protection.

    As a teqcher, you will understand how best to educate, all I can do is show solidarity with the women who have undergone this practice and who have bravely put their heads above the parapet and spoken against it. It is thanks to them that we are moving forward with multi agency guidelines drawn up for child protection protection and that leaders from different religions have clearly and openly stated that the practice is not sanctioned by their religious, indeed quite the reverse.

    When I say that child protection trumps cultural insensitivity, I am merely articulating what has already been said by women from the cultures most likely to suffer from it. When I say that left leaning feminists must take the blame for its perpetuation, it is attack on myself not you.

  • Jayne Mansfield 21st Jun '14 - 2:23pm

    @ Eddie Sammon,
    I don’t understand why you complain that some types of female genital mutilation are not of the worst kind.

    Eddie, if you want to know more about the four different types, look up the WHO website detailing the four types or if you want a pictorial representation of this barbarous mutilation check out the ‘Daughter of Eve’, website.

    If you are referring to the less well known type 4 of mutilation, would you consider it so mild a mutilation if you were held down as a child and similar things were done to your sexual organs – with the pain, risk of infection and life long insensitivity to sexual pleasure that it can cause? According to their website, The Daughters of Eve are trying to find out more about this less well known type and its consequences, but it should not be just passed off as ‘tribal markings’ and therefore of little consequence.

    I hope this helps.

  • Eddie Sammon 21st Jun '14 - 5:48pm

    Hi Jayne, I’m complaining because aspects of the campaign exaggerate and although it spurs people into action it also whips up hatred. It reminded me of an old saying: “If it sounds too good/bad to be true then it probably is.”. Of course, we wouldn’t have this trust problem if people told the truth from the start, whoever misrepresented the facts in the first place.

    However, I don’t want to be negative and will still support an imperfect campaign, but I felt it was necessary to point out why my enthusiasm and trust in what I was hearing dimmed. On a side note, I enjoy your posts and attitude and hope you post more. I don’t feel that I can have a real conversation with everyone, as people often seem gagged by political correctness or insensitive to other people’s concerns. Alas, no one is perfect, and definitely not me :).

  • Helen Tedcastle 21st Jun '14 - 6:09pm

    Stuart Mitchell
    There are hundreds of Hadith – the disputed ones are not agreed with by most scholars and therefore carry less authority- therefore, are not as important as the undisputed ones.

    This explains why the practice is unislamic and in line with my ‘claim’ as you put it.

    ” If we all had equal respect for other people’s religions and cultures, why would it matter who teaches this stuff to kids, so long as they’re saying the right things”

    I agree and that’s what we need to work towards ie: mutual respect and understanding between religions and those of no religion.

    However, I am thinking of how one might change hearts and minds within a community. This often gains most effect and power when someone from within a community and culture or religion can make the case. The reason why I am fairly insistent on this point is that we in the west are rather good at telling others what they should and shouldn’t be doing (our colonial past is an example).

    Our role is surely to educate and empower people to help themselves – not to impose from the outside because we disapprove. I think we disagree on means not ends in this case.

    @ Jayne Mansfield – I know you are not attacking me. I am making a wider point really about westerners and ‘liberals’ (small ‘l’) in general.

  • Jayne Mansfield 21st Jun '14 - 7:28pm

    @ Eddie Sammon,
    As far as I can see, the only hatred that has been whipped up has been that which has been directed at the brave women who have stood up against this practice by appearing on television or starting self help groups or petitions. This has taken the form of death threats and threats of violence. These threats must be taken seriously.

  • Eddie Sammon 21st Jun '14 - 8:05pm

    Hi Jayne, when FGM websites suggest that over 90% of women in Egypt and Somalia are experiencing extreme violence then what does it say about the people in those countries? It makes them out to be savages and that is why we need to be careful with the facts and get the descriptions as accurate as possible and not think facts and accuracy is less important than publicity.


  • Jayne Mansfield 22nd Jun '14 - 9:56pm

    @ Eddie Sammon,
    I am afraid that I can’t let your last post pass unremarked upon. The idea that those fighting to protect female children from this appalling abuse use exaggeration or are giving inaccurate facts really is not the case.

    In Egypt Type 1 or 2 is the routine type of mutilation. In Somalia there are geographical differences 80% suffer type 3, the most severe. In some coastal towns the mutilation tends to be type 2.

    I really an unconcerned what label is given to the perpetrators of this abomination , but since FGG was made illegal in Egypt in 2008 and by the Puntland Administration in Somalia in 1998, one could start with ‘criminals’.

    In Britain, one should also remember that the practice is illegal and that since 2002 it has also been illegal to take the child abroad for the purposes of carrying out the mutilation.

    I have to say Eddie, I find your criticism of campaigners about the factual information that they give, a terrible slur on very brave women.

  • Eddie Sammon 22nd Jun '14 - 10:12pm

    It’s not a terrible slur to question whether over 90% of parents in some countries are inflicting “horrific practices” and “one of the worst kinds of violence” on their children.

  • Eddie Sammon 22nd Jun '14 - 10:22pm

    Jayne, the point is I was only told of the worst kind but given figures for all kinds, that demoralised me.

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