“In my next Friday prayers, I will make a sermon against FGM to let people know the harms that is associated to it. That will be my duty,” said Imam Ayuba Jaiteh of Tujereng village.
He further promised: “Also in other social gatherings, such as naming ceremonies, I will talk against FGM.”
According to the Home Office, up to 24,000 girls under the age of 15 may be at risk of female genital mutilation. Since March 2004, it has not only been illegal to mutilate a little girl’s genitals in the UK (the first law against FGM in Britain was passed in the 1980s) it is also illegal to take a girl out of the UK to mutilate her genitals in another country. Anyone who does so can in principle be prosecuted and jailed for up to 14 years.
But there have been no prosecutions in the UK. Not because girls have not been mutilated, but because – according to Newsnight’s report last night – no effort has been made to prevent it:
[Isabelle Gillette-Faye, a French campaigner against FGM] walks me over to the Eurostar platform to tell me the story of two little girls who were about to board the train headed for St. Pancras to be mutilated in the UK.
“It was a Friday. We heard just in time. They had tickets for the Saturday.
“A family member tipped us off. We told the police and they were stopped from making the journey.”
The parents were cautioned. Had they gone ahead with the mutilations and been found out, they would have been imprisoned for up to 13 years.
“We simply will not tolerate this practice,” Isabelle explains.
Does she think many French children have been cut in the UK?
“Yes, because you do not care,” she says.
The Home Office says that the little girls in the UK communities most at risk of FGM include “Kenyans, Somalis, Sudanese, Sierra Leoneans, Egytians, Nigerians and Eritireans. However women from non-African communities that are at risk of FGM include Yemeni, Kurdish, Indonesian and Pakistani women.” The Home Office has available for download a huge 1Mb PDF of multi-agency guidelines to protect against FGM, but the French practice is in its way very direct: all girl children from “at risk communities” have their genitals inspected regularly either at a special clinic, up to the age of six, or by the school, up until the age of 15: parents can be and are prosecuted by the authorities and sent to jail for up to 13 years.
In the UK, the Home Office guidelines note that a woman who is fleeing “potential” FGM may have a “complicated” immigration status and may not cooperate with the authorities for fear of being deported (a perfectly valid fear, since UKBA start from the premise that all asylum seekers are lying about their reasons for seeking asylum). Medical examinations may be necessary “in some cases”. “For many people, prosecuting their family is something they simply will not consider.”
Most telling of all:
A local authority should exercise its powers to make enquiries to safeguard a girl’s welfare under section 47 of the Children Act 1989 if it has reason to believe that a girl is likely to be subjected to or has been subjected to FGM. However, despite the very severe health consequences, parents and others who have FGM performed on their daughters do not intend it as an act of abuse – they believe that it is in the girl’s best interests to conform with their prevailing custom (see Section 2.8). Therefore, where a girl has been identified as being at risk of significant harm, it may not always be appropriate to remove the child from an otherwise loving family environment. (4.2, pg 15)
There is absolutely something to be said against mandatory genital inspections of little girls on the grounds that their parents come from a community deemed to be an “at risk”.
[Update, seen on Sara Khan's Twitter feed after I posted this:]
— Sara Khan (@SaraKhanInspire) July 24, 2012
On the other hand, FGM is incomparably serious, violently misogynistic child abuse: deliberately done so that a woman will never in her life be able to experience sex as pleasure: in the most thorough forms of FGM, done so that a woman’s periods will be painful and dangerous and she will never without restorative surgery be able to experience urination without pain or sexual intercourse except as agony: childbirth will be more dangerous: and in accordance with tradition, a woman who has been mutilated in this way will be mutilated again after every child born.
“Male circumcision is clearly mentioned in the Qur’an, but for women, it is not,” said Ebrima Ceesay, an Islamic scholar at Brikama Kabafita.
“I know that for me, as from today until death, I will never tell anybody that FGM is good because it is not Farda [obligatory]. The sources quoted are weak hadiths [teachings of the prophets] that say it is ‘makramatun’ (honour) for women.
“It is not worth subjecting girls to it… It is not in the Quran and going back to history the Prophet did not practise it on his daughters. So let us sensitize each other to stop it.”
Last year, one of the posts cut by the coalition government was the only Whitehall post specialising in prevention of FGM. The Home Office claim abolishing the post will make no difference.
But charities say that without a central government co-ordinator, crucial efforts to raise awareness among professionals on a local level, where the issue is often still not understood, could be seriously hampered. Some girls are “cut” in the UK, while others may be taken abroad in the summer holidays.
“This is a real step backwards,” said Diana Nammi, director of the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation. “We feel it speaks about a real lack of commitment from the government and a marginalisation of this hugely important issue The new guidelines were an important step forward but efforts are now needed to ensure that they are actually read and acted on, and the government should also be working to change attitudes towards FGM within communities.
Sara Khan, director of British Muslim women’s human rights organisation Inspire, wrote in her blog in April that attacks on women in Asian communities appear to be on the increase; “and although these attacks are not based on religion, it is undeniable that vast numbers of victims are Muslim women”.
Research by the Muslim Council of Wales concluded that 90% of UK mosques fall short of provisions for women and children. With unemployment rising faster among women than men and cuts to benefits that women depend on, this will affect Muslim women in particular where currently two-thirds of Muslim women are economically inactive, compared with a quarter of all women. Polly Toynbee recently wrote that “intentionally or not, a male breadwinner with a dependent woman carer at home is the model on which the cuts are crafted, removing the supports to independence and sending women home”. The government’s policies will lead to many British Muslim women being even further confined to the home and will have an influence on important decisions. Women have contacted my organisation saying these policies, for example, would make them think twice about leaving an abusive marriage.
I agree with Nick Cohen’s passion against FGM. I disagree with the calm restraint of the Home Office guidelines. But while it is too easy for a white person to go full out against the barbaric practices of a non-white community: FGM is indefensible as a matter of “cultural sensitivity” (it is both culturally appropriate and lawful in many countries for a Muslim man to take more than one wife: but neither UK law nor practice is “culturally sensitive” about respecting second, third, or fourth marriages: and bigamy is nowhere near as inhumane a crime as genital mutilation).
The most effective way of ensuring there is no more FGM is to get the culture that says it’s OK to say it is not OK – and to make clear that to mutilate your daughter’s genitals is a crime (and, despite all the loving family life in the world, to enforce the laws).
William Napier, the brother of General Sir Charles James Napier (1782 – 1853), told a story of his brother’s rejoinder to Hindu priests complaining to him about the prohibition of Sati by British authorities:
“Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs.”
This is a tremendous rejoinder, one still much quoted, but it’s worth considering that Napier’s words may have prevented Sati when he was there to enforce the hangings, but did nothing to change the cultural practice: widows in India can still suffer dreadful discrimination, and a few incidents of Sati still happen every year:
In September 1987, 18-year-old Roop Kanwar, a young widow (she was married for just 8 months ) of Rajasthan was forced to commit sati after the death of her husband. Many litres of ghee (cooking butter) were poured on her as she burnt to death on her husband’s funeral pyre. People who assisted her in suicide were arrested. But Roop Kanwar is idolized and has attained the status of a deity; a temple was built for her. In October 1996, the Indian Court upholds the suicide as a social tradition and acquitted all 38 defendants who assisted Roop Kanwar. Another incident was the case of Kuttu Bai, a 65 year widow committed sati in the state of Madhya Pradesh in August 2002, another was Vidyawati a 35-year-old woman committed Sati by jumping into the blazing funeral pyre of her husband in the year 2006 in Utter Pradesh, Janakrani (40years old) was burnt to death on the funeral pyre of her husband in Sager District of Madhya Pradesh in August 2006 and very recently one Lalmati (71 years old) of Chatisgarh has committed sati in October 2008.
Today, the status of women in India can be gauged quite closely from the fact that a practice such as sati is still possible, and publicly supported and glorified. The anniversary of Roop Kanwar’s sati (who has committed sati on 4th September 1987 in the village of Deorala in the Sikar district in Rajasthan) has come and gone, but it appears that nobody is keen to eradicate or remove this social evil prevalent in the country including Indian Government(The Times of India, April 23, 2008). More and more cases are being reported in daily news papers. All the accused were acquitted in the case of Roop Kanwar’s sati by the trial court of Rajasthan in the absence of in adequate evidence against them. Many police officials who turned hostile witnesses in the court. Not only this, the Additional District and Sessions Judge acquitted even a government doctor, Mr. Magan Singh, who was accused of fraudulently showing Mr. Sumer Singh admitted in the Government Hospital in Ajitgarh (India)at the time of the incident to provide an alibi (The Pioneer, “Sati Killers acquitted”, dated 13-10-1996).
There must be change, but change must come from within the communities at risk: I would be all in favour of CPS enforcing the law by prosecution, social services making clear they will remove a child rather than risk her mutilation, but the history of British imperialism says that you can’t change a cultural practice by external force, only by internal pressure.
One of the resource persons on Islam and FGM was an erudite religious scholar, Muhammad Sano, who reminded fellow scholars that a weak Hadith cannot be a basis to perpetuate practices that is causing harm and suffering to women.
He went further to discuss the rights of women and children in Islam, noting that Muslims have to take responsibility in upholding them.
Quotes against FGM as an Islamic practice from a workshop organised by Gamcotrap earlier this month, attended by over 50 religious leaders, jointly funded by Save the Children-Sweden and UN Women. Gamcotrap is a leading women’s rights advocacy NGO in the Gambia.
The author of the petition writes:
If (in my view absolutely correctly) it’s now important to investigate a possible failure by third parties to protect children from abuse by the ‘entertainer’ Jimmy Savile, why was the far more impersonal e-petition on FGM apparently not permitted even to refer to the possibility of state-employed professionals neglecting children at risk of barbaric bodily harm?
Indeed, why did the current coalition government actually, actively, remove the role of national ‘NoFGM’ co-ordinator, set up expressly to bring services together to stop this nightmarishly awful practice?
For the sake of all children, and specifically to halt the hurt to an estimated-average 50 children at risk or victims of female genital mutilation in Britain every day of the entire year, we must demand to know right now exactly who in child safe-guarding is responsible for what.