Two developments in Lynne Featherstone’s fight to stop Female Genital Mutilation

Last week, there were two important developments in the fight to stop the abhorrent practice of female genital mutilation. This is a key priority for Lynne Featherstone as international development minister.

First of all, the Sunday Times (£) reported that teachers are to be given training to help them identify girls who may be at risk of being subjected to FGM. Teachers will be requested to report any mention, for example, of ceremonies to become a woman. I was quite surprised that only one school in the country has a policy on preventing FGM and that so many teachers had no idea it was illegal.

Lynne is quoted as saying:

It is shocking that 8 in 10 teachers have received no child protection training on FGM when in the UK there are more than 20,000 girls at risk of suffering this barbaric practice.

I’m keen to work hard with head teachers and teaching unions to stamp out FGM. Support from the unions is critical in raising awareness and protecting vulnerable girls.

Secondly, religious leaders were invited to meet with Norman Baker and Lynne Featherstone, who asked them to use their influence to stamp out the practice. As the Standard reports:

There is concern that a widespread belief in some African countries that FGM is a religious duty is putting girls in the UK at risk. International development minister Lynne Featherstone, who was jointly hosting today’s meeting with Home Office minister Norman Baker, said it was essential that religious leaders gave full backing to the fight against FGM.

“Religious leaders have the access, the power and the influence to change things,” she said.

“If we don’t have their buy-in, their help and them championing this then we are not going to stop FGM. Changing religious beliefs is key to ending FGM.”

Lynne’s stated aim is to stamp out FGM in a generation. Liberal Democrat conference debated it in Glasgow last September where Lynne made the point that it would soon stop if it were happening to boys. I think that teachers or anyone who works with girls, actually, being attuned to the signs and willing to report them might just lead to the prosecutions which may act as a future deterrent.

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

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  • Eddie Sammon 23rd Jan '14 - 11:45am

    Well done Lynne. A good article by Caron, but unfortunately I think the last paragraph puts a slight downer on it. Many of us “non-feminist” types have been calling for more action on things like FGM and less on more trivial concerns such as gendered toys and more controversial ones such as quotas. It’s not true that we don’t care about women as much, we just don’t see all differences as meaning inequality.

    Best wishes

  • horrid practice an the young male circumcision is also a child abuse matter

  • The first Liberal MP I can remember putting the case against FGM was Clement Freud. This was more than 30 years go. So I am surprised that Carron writes that today’s teachers in schools know nothing about it.
    I guess it is another one of those “generational things”, except this time it would appear to be the young middle class women who have no clue. Am I allowed to say that or will my membership be suspended?

  • lynne featherstone 23rd Jan '14 - 6:36pm

    Hi Caron – thank you for posting this. It is a hugely important issue. In fact today – the International Development Committee chaired by Malcolm Bruce debated their report on Violence Against Women and the Government response – and almost every member speaking wanted to raise the issue of FGM. I was replying for the Government. The program I launched from DFID last March aims to end FGM within a generation. We need everyone to engage. As you rightly raise – it was part of a motion at conference last year – and now you have me leading the FGM charge at DFID; Norman Baker at Home Office, David Laws at DFE and Stephen Williams at DCLG! I am proud of the Liberal Democrats on this mission.

  • Shirley Campbell 23rd Jan '14 - 8:23pm

    Lynne and Caron, thank you for revisiting the issue of the barbaric practice of FGM. It is beyond my comprehension that women are brainwashed into believing that a barbaric practice visited on them in their youth should be visited upon their daughters in order to secure a husband. Seemingly, I could be considered a brainwashed Westerner.

    Certainly, the issue of “female body confidence” fades into insignificance when one is faced with the deliberate mutilation of a young female body. Would it not be better if women were to focus on concrete issues that affect women worldwide rather than the more shallow vanity issues that surround “body confidence”? Could not supposedly enlightened Western women abandon their quest for a flat belly within two weeks of childbirth and consider women in other parts of the globe to whom repeated and unwanted pregnancies result in considerable internal damage and double incontinence. Such things were once the fate of Western woman but properly qualified medical intervention and effective birth control methods have, in the main, ensured that Western women are no longer “victims” of their ability to reproduce.

    As an older woman, I am deeply saddened by the latest LibDem scandal that has effectively alienated some very able young women. From the sidelines, I conclude that the loss of such able young women is the LibDems loss since such women will go elsewhere to make a difference.

  • Yes, male circumcision can be serious, and in a very few cases disastrous, but female genital mutilation is a much more serious attack on the person. I wonder whether generations of calling it “female circumcision” have contributed to the slow uptake of the current campaign and the unwillingness to prosecute.

  • I fully support the excellent work being done on FGM by Lynne Featherstone and others.
    I suggest that it might be best to avoid the male circumcision argument for fear of ending up with the sort of controversy they have had in Germany.

  • Shirley Campbell 24th Jan '14 - 12:05am

    Yes, Ed Wilson, you have hit the nail on the head. Male circumcision for whatever reason will never equate with the mutilation carried out on young women in the name of female circumcision.

  • No Geoff Crocker, but neither should we run a campaign which is against everything and achieves nothing because of lack of focus. The specific horrors of FGM certainly merit this work.

  • Here we go again backing off an issue because of religion. Either the mutilation of children is wrong or it isn’t? It’s no wonder that teachers have difficulty understanding that FGM is illegal when they know that MGM isn’t, In fact as far as I understand it MGM is even carried on infant boys by the NHS for religious reasons at the request of parents.

    It’s quite a ridiculous situation to say that religious leaders are being asked to tell parents that FGM is not a religeous requirement to stop them doing it presumably meaning that if it was it would be okay. So if a new religion popped up as they occasionally do and the requirement was to lop the right ear of all infant girls and the left one off all infant boys we would all be expected to accept it?

    I have no objection to consenting adults doing whatever they want to their own bodies but vulnerable children have a right to be protected by wider society. How daft is it that a parent can be prosecuted for having their under 18 year old son tattooed but have the freedom to have part of his genitals chopped off.

  • George Potter 24th Jan ’14 – 10:57am

    Hang on a second George, if you look back most of the men who have commented here have not done what you are accusing all men of doing. I broadly agree with what you are saying but give credit to those men who have commented .

  • Malcolm Todd 24th Jan '14 - 1:22pm

    George Crocker
    The point is that these two things really aren’t the same at all – female genital mutilation (please don’t call it “circumcision”, because it’s a completely inappropriate term) is really closer to castration than to the removal of the foreskin. I’m against all unnecessary irreversible surgery on children, but I can easily see that FGM is so vastly much more harmful than circumcision that to confuse the two in one campaign can only dilute and obscure the important message. It’s got nothing to do with “treating genders equally”, because this is one area where we’re simply different.

    Robert 24th Jan ’14 – 9:48am
    “It’s quite a ridiculous situation to say that religious leaders are being asked to tell parents that FGM is not a religeous requirement to stop them doing it presumably meaning that if it was it would be okay. “

    The point is that it’s much harder to get people to change their behaviour if they believe that it’s required or even justified by their religion, harder to get people to change the rules of their religion (especially where there’s no recognised central authority with the power to do that) and pretty much impossible to persuade people to give up their religion altogether. If FGM really were a religious requirement then we’d have no choice but to tackle it on that basis; but if people can be persuaded that it isn’t, then they’re more likely to stop. That outcome is rather more important than philosophical finesse.

  • George Potter 24th Jan ’14 – 12:02pm

    George, take it easy, I am on your side on this issue. In fact I am on your side on a lot of issues. You write a blog in which I find a lot of good sense. I cannot help being over 25 and I cannot help the fact that I was campaigning on some of these issues a long time ago. If you and I both want to get something done about FGM that is a good thing isn’t it?

    BTW -Thanks for your vote of confidence in my intelligence. 🙂

  • @George Crocker

    Because politicians are unlikely to start a fight against Jews – apparently there was a war and since then politicians aren’t keen on attacking Judaism. I think I broadly agree with your point but I’m not interested in starting a religious war. I don’t think it very liberal to slice of bits of anyone’s body if they’re too young to have an input on it, but as George Potter said, it’s not a like for like comparison. I’d stick to fighting the FGM in the first instance!

  • I don’t think anyone, least of all me, is trying to equate the catastrophic consequences of FGM to those of MGM. However the unnecessary mutilation, even ‘just a little bit’, of any child without their informed consent should not be acceptable. I think it’s pretty obvious what would follow if someone mutilated the genitals of an unwilling adult male. Probably a significant custodial sentence.

    MGM has left some men medically and psychologically damaged in later life which is presumably why there have been class actions in US courts seeking redress from alleged perpetrators.

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