Over 66,000 women in the UK have already undergone female genital mutilation (FGM) and more than 24,000 girls are at risk. FGM is a very British problem. Despite increased activities around FGM recently, it is not enough – we are still failing to stop the abuse.
[The petition has reached 100,000 signatures – 100,412 as of Sunday 26th January – and is therefore eligible for debate by the House of Commons. Important that if FGM is debated in the Commons it does not descend into a farago of Islamophobia: real solutions needed.]
The Guardian is running a consultation on how to eradicate FGM forever: closes 8th January.
In 2011, the Tory/LibDem government cut the funding for the only Whitehall post devoted to work preventing women and girls from the UK being subjected to FGM.
“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.
“Without a dedicated person in government to drive efforts forward, it’s hard to see how this will happen. The coordinator was a link between all the organisations working in this area and now that’s been lost.”
She added: “We were hoping to see another post created to tackle honour killings, so we were shocked to see the one for FGM being taken away instead.
“This is only one person’s salary. It’s not a lot amount of money for the government but it has a huge effect within the community.”
Multi-agency guidelines have been drawn up for some years now, but they have never been made statutory: needless to say in the cuts, cuts, cuts, cuts and privatisation policy since 2010, there has been no national support for local authorities and the NHS to implement them regionally, and there is no one in Whitehall whose job it is to monitor the various agencies or hold anyone to account. Of course there is little to no funding: this is austerity.
Female genital mutilation is the removal of part or all of the external female genitalia. In its most severe form, a woman or girl has all of her genitalia removed and then stitched together, leaving a small opening for intercourse and menstruation. It is practiced in 28 African countries on the pretext of cultural tradition or hygiene. An estimated 135 million girls have undergone FGM with dire consequences ranging from infection (including HIV) to sterility, in addition to the devastating psychological effects. Though all the governments of the countries in which FGM is practiced have legislation making it illegal, the complete lack of enforcement and prosecution of the perpetrators means FGM continues to thrive.
Nevertheless, the New Statesman’s article “Why has there never been a successful prosecution for female genital mutilation in the UK?” is written by a white man, Andrew Zak Williams, who believes that “New Atheists” shouldn’t be accused of Islamophobia and who is not interested in the glaring reasons for failure in prosecuting for FGM in the UK.
The most obvious is the same reason girls in trouble are not helped when they fall victim to grooming gangs:
Serious case reviews identified “a widespread pattern of weaknesses and failings” both at organisational level and at the grass roots. Together they undermined the agencies’ ability to protect and safeguard young people.
Policy and procedures were either not available or were poorly understood and implemented on the frontline.
There was an absence of high quality supervision, and high workloads and lack of resources contributed “to disorganisation and at times a sense of helplessness”.
Furthermore, there was a focus more on quantitative practice rather than the quality of care that was needed.
This is a report about the Rochdale case, not about FGM, but the same failings are letting girls down by multiple agencies supposed to be there to protect them: and discriminatory attitudes from individuals in the police force contributing to the problem.
“This a bleak situation. Over a period of years these young people were let down by all the agencies they dealt with. What shocked me was the willingness of staff to accept that they couldn’t do anything. Time and again, people were confronted by things they thought were not right. But they didn’t believe there was a solution to it.
“Police officers didn’t think they’d get support from the Crown Prosecution Service. The CPS didn’t think the courts would believe the young people. Children’s social care didn’t believe they could intervene in a way that would stop them running away.
“A whole host of people didn’t think they could do anything that was positive. That shocked me. I think they were distressed that they couldn’t do anything. What they failed to do was to challenge each other’s inaction.”
In the specific crime of FGM, the best means of stopping the practice entirely is always going to be for imams and other respected members of the Muslim community to make clear that female genital mutilation is neither required by the Quran nor tolerated by good Muslims. This is already happening in many parts of the world.
What is Andrew Zak Williams interested in? Criticising Islam.
I am not the first person to observe that many liberal intellectuals seem incapable of viewing Islam as anything other than as victim. What it is about the world’s most totalitarian religion that has liberals scurrying to defend it is hardly within the scope of this article. Suffice it to say, there is a ready-made army with an arsenal of laptops and access to highbrow media, ready to condemn any policy of criminal prosecutions that can be accused of failing to take into account the sensibilities of Muslim communities.
And how many times have we encountered those shouting for the rights of women, but who fail to raise their voices when the oppressed happen to be Muslim? Is female subservience really to be tolerated so long as it is perpetuated in the name of a rabidly male-dominated religion? As a result, the police, the CPS and even government must tread carefully, knowing that any ingress in this arena is ripe for frenzied accusations of racism and Islamophobia.
This is Rochdale talk all over again: ignoring the UK-wide grooming gangs, the detailed report from Bernardos on the victims of child sexual exploitation, and focussing entirely on one area where the grooming gangs were predominantly Asian but the targets were white, in order to blame Muslims rather than the obvious culprits of austerity and sexism. (No such national attention as was found for Rochdale was focussed on a similar case in Derby where all the rapists in the grooming gang were white.)
Only a quarter of local safeguarding children boards in England are implementing government guidance on sexual exploitation appropriately*.
The children’s charity’s new report Cutting them free surveyed its 21 specialist services and reveals that locally, awareness raising of sexual exploitation has reduced by 30% due to funding cuts and that acknowledgement and recognition of the issue still remains patchy. Barnardo’s understands that in some regions there may have been a downgrading of sexual exploitation as a priority.
Yet this crime is becoming ever more complex and pernicious and without local action children will continue to be groomed, raped and abused in towns and cities across the UK.
FGM is a cultural, not a religious practice. Women directly involved with combating it have said what they judge is needed, and petitioned Downing Street for it. It would be worse than a shame if the real fight against FGM is washed away by a tide of Islamophobia: it would be a crime.