Marina Yannakoudakis is a Member of the European Parliament for London.
An estimated 65,000 young girls are victims of FGM in the UK, with most of them living in my constituency of London. These young girls, born in the UK, are taken to the country of their parents’ or grandparents’ origin and horrifically mutilated. To add to the true reality of this picture, the cutting is sometimes done in the UK. The barbaric practice of FGM is nothing short of child abuse. In the past few years this issue has finally begun to appear on people’s radars, we have begun to talk about FGM.
Let’s be frank about this: Female Genital Mutilation is the cutting of women and girls. It is painful, intrusive and distressing – between 130 and 140 million women and girls around the globe have been cut, with an estimated 3 million more at risk every year.
This problem is now Europe-wide, with an estimated 500,000 young girls affected. Member states can produce their own tailor-made policies for dealing with FGM, but it is vital we share information across borders in order to help those states in need of support in the fight against this horrific practice.
Why does FGM happen? There are theories and reasons, all of which result in young girls as young as 3 being mutilated brutally. Cutters can partially or completely remove the clitoris, as well as the prepuce and labia. Vaginal orifices can be sewn up or sealed, even pierced and cauterised in order to adhere to sociocultural practices. Cutters do this because of the variety of gender, sexual, religious and social beliefs they hold. For example, FGM is used to prepare a woman or girl for marriage in that particular community.
This issue is gaining increasing world attention, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) issuing demographic and health surveys, specifically targeting those countries with the highest rates. Whilst figures can only be estimates, it is clear that most cases emanate from North-Eastern Africa. With the absence of long term studies however, we have little information on the changing nature of FGM. It has recently become clear that with vast swathes of immigration, Europe now finds itself on the frontline in the fight against FGM.
The challenges we face in mapping the problem stem from the very personal nature of this crime. Victims tend to be girls, young women or women with very few people to turn to in their community. Establishing fact and delivering care becomes increasingly hard given the nomadic nature of many immigrant communities and the family constraints surrounding victims.
Member states take different approaches in dealing with this problem. In the UK we work with the communities. We have also introduced a Health Passport which allows parents of children at risk to show authorities when they are in their country of origin that FGM is illegal. In the UK it’s been illegal since 1985, but we have not had a single prosecution to date. The main reason for this is that it is difficult to get a child to testify against their parents or relatives. FGM starts in the home and that’s where our approach to fighting it must start.
There are positive actions we can take to stop this barbaric practice. All of which involve greater awareness, information and training for the people who might come into contact with children at risk. We are presented with a range of methods to better determine the extent of FGM, but no particular choice is perfect, we must therefore use a collection of methods to better tackle the problem of FGM. Medical checks, social & health investigations of immigrant communities, household surveys, GP questionnaires, hospital admissions information and border agency interviews fail to build a reliable picture when used alone, but if used together we can improve information gathering and care.
The relationship between victim, family and the authorities underpins all of this. In many cases we have to rely on the honesty and willingness of victims to help identify cases. In other circumstances we need the cooperation of families to get to the core of the problem. The authority, i.e. the government or local council, needs to develop a policy which connects directly with victims and families. The very personal nature of this crime means that any statistical gathering, as well as care, must start in the home. We need to build a strong relationship between authorities and the immigrant communities.
If we do not act to bring an end to this practice we have failed to protect young girls.
It is a shame that some UK political parties are using the topic of FGM for nothing but pure electoral gain. Just last week, the Lib Dems, led by Tim Farron MP, accused the Conservatives of not supporting the fight against FGM. They claimed that we voted against a resolution on FGM before Christmas. Firstly, the resolution was not about FGM but wider human rights and secondly our group line was in support of the paragraph pertaining to FGM. The Labour party has said that by voting against the Estrela report we have supported FGM. But if they read the detail correctly, Estrela’s primary motive was to extend sex education to four year olds and reduce parents to stakeholders. Let’s be clear: the Conservatives are fighting FGM.
Let me tell you what the Conservatives are doing on FGM. This is the true story – no spin, no spiel.
I’m dedicating time to raising awareness of this issue and bringing everyone together so that we can fight this abhorrent practice. On Tuesday 11th February, I held a public hearing in Brussels, the first of its kind, bringing together survivors of FGM, the World Health Organisation, the European Commission, Member states, MEPs and NGOs. This is one of the few areas where the European Union can share best practice, improve prevalence mapping and make a real difference.
In addition to this, I’m launching a three-point plan to tackle FGM on the 8th March (International Women’s Day). This issue distresses all women; whether you’re a victim or not, we can understand the pain caused by FGM. This plan is being supported by MEPs across Europe, from across the party spectrum.
To follow up on this I will be holding a public hearing at City Hall in London on the 18th March, bringing together FGM survivors, MEPs, the Mayor’s office, MPs, UK Ministers, the Metropolitan Police, NGOs, medical professionals and social services. We hope to keep the momentum and spread the word that we can eliminate FGM.
We can fight this; we can eradicate it from our societies – this not only goes for the UK, but for all countries. But until we improve communication between victims, families, authorities, charities and services, we cannot improve statistical gathering or medical/social care. We must set aside the political point scoring and work together. My plan is open for endorsement to all parties.
We must fight FGM by prosecuting, we must gather resources to improve our understanding of FGM, and we must maximise our influence to deter cutters via aid conditionality with countries who fall short of administering standards.
This is the 3- point ‘Manifesto to Stop Brutality’:
Fight: We call on the UK and other Governments to take a more serious approach to prosecuting those guilty of inflicting or assisting to inflict the genital mutilation of girls and demands that all genital mutilation cases concerning girls are treated as child abuse cases
Gather: We call on the UK and other Governments to monitor and record every official and suspected incidence of genital mutilation to girls and to produce an annual report highlighting those figures
Maximise: We call on the EU to ensure, by means of aid conditionality, that third countries protect women and girls from genital mutilation by channelling aid towards victim support and ask that new free trade agreements with third countries impose strict obligations