By Shazia Hobbs
If you are unaware of what Female Genital Mutilation is, I envy you. Ignorance is bliss after all and I wish I lived in a word where FGM didn’t exist.
Unfortunately The World Health Organisation website states:
More than 200 million girls and women alive today have been cut in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where FGM is concentrated’
More than 3 million girls are estimated to be at risk from FGM, annually.
UNICEF’s website states that out of these 200 million girls and women who have had FGM forced on them, more than half live in just three countries and 44 million girls are below the age of 15.
In the UK the true number of girls and women affected by FGM is unknown although there is an estimate that 137,000 have been affected in England and Wales. And I know that in Scotland, all 32 local authorities have dealt with cases of FGM.
FGM is the partial or total removal of external female genitalia, which includes the clitoris, labia, and the fatty tissue over the pubic bone and the vaginal opening.
There are four types of FGM, all four types are barbaric and there are no health benefits in forcing young girls and women to go through with this. The ages at which girls are mutilated can range from babies to young women, and an elder, ‘the cutter,’ in their communities, with no painkillers to numb the pain, will cut them with a rusty blade.
The reasons given are always ‘social and cultural’ with little or no focus on religion. Religion is the common denominator in all 30 countries where FGM is concentrated. The three top countries are Indonesia, Egypt and Ethiopia and while their cultural and social norms will differ vastly, the religion will be the same.
It is at this point that many will argue, ‘Yes but Christians also cut their girls.’ Even though there is no demand from Christian countries to do this nor is there any biblical call for FGM.
The EGLDAM 2007 survey suggest that the prevalence of FGM amongst Muslims is not only higher but is also changing more slowly than amongst Orthodox and other Christian groups.
How can we eradicate FGM if we are unable to say one of the reasons for butchering girls’ vaginas is because of religion? That the purity culture of Islam is behind most, but not all, Muslim girls being cut? Islam encourages it and the Prophet even commented on it advising on a small cut, ‘a sunnah’ to keep girls pure. If we are too scared to state the obvious for fear of upsetting Muslims, fear of racial tension, riots, losing votes and offending, then what is the point of even talking about it?
I read somewhere that the government is hoping to eradicate FGM in the next generation. Meanwhile we allow an entire generation of girls and women to suffer with no guarantee that the next generation will be any safer. Every day there are new cases of FGM being reported. Have you any idea of the suffering that is caused by FGM?
The immediate effects of FGM are severe and intense pain, shock, fever, bleeding and infections. Death from FGM is a risk and the number of girls who die is unknown.
Mayar Mohamed Mousa is one of the girls we do know about because her story made it into the mainstream media. She was 17 when she died in an Egyptian hospital and under anaesthetic for FGM. Despite Egypt banning FGM in 2008 the practice is still widespread amongst Muslims and the minority Christians who live there.
Long-term effects are painful urination, difficulty in passing menstrual blood, painful sex, scar tissue and risk of childbirth complications, depression, anxiety, PSTD and low self-esteem.
It should be obvious if you butcher a young girl’s vagina that the girl will suffer for a lifetime, regardless of whether it is done with un-sterilised razor blades or under anaesthetic in a hospital.
Type 3 FGM, known as ‘infibulation’, is where part or all of the external genitalia is removed and what is left is stitched together with a small hole left for urine and menstrual blood to pass. With Type 3 the vagina needs to be cut open to allow for sexual intercourse and childbirth. Sometimes these women are stitched up again only to be cut open, several times.
FGM has been a criminal offence in the UK since 1985 and in 2003 it was amended to include taking your child out of the country to be cut. Anyone found guilty of this can face up to 14 years in prison.
There has not been one single conviction for this crime even though we know a girl is cut every hour, every day. An estimated 137,000 are affected by FGM and not one person has been punished. Those who cut and mutilate their girls’ vagina do so without any fear because they know that they can get away with it, no one has ever been punished for this horrific crime. It doesn’t take a genius to guess that the vast majority of girls and women suffering from FGM are from an Islamic background.
Imagine if Christians in the UK started mutilating their daughters’ vaginas? Imagine if we were hearing of hundreds of babies and young girls suffering because of FGM being forced on them? Imagine if we had FGM clinics for Christian children opening up in London? The parents of these girls would be arrested and jailed with no respect given to their ‘cultural practices’ because it is a criminal offence and child abuse.
Maybe if we start making an example of those who allow their daughters to be mutilated we may see an end to this barbaric and evil practice. Maybe if we start jailing parents and carers who allow their daughters to be cut we may see other parents not as keen to cut their daughters.
Smacking and beating your child is against the law and a parent can be punished for it with no fear of offending. Nobody ever says ‘Oh you beat your child up – but it’s cultural so we won’t punish you.’ We protect the children first when there is any risk of abuse.
With FGM there is a fear of offending and we have yet to see any parent punished and until we do there is little chance of the next generation of girls being protected, no matter how much you educate and raise awareness. FGM can only be truly eradicated when you punish those who are guilty of this barbaric and horrific crime.
Shazia Hobbs is the author of The Gori’s Daughter, her debut novel, and is currently writing her next novel, The Gori. Shazia is a full-time mum and her days are spent doing the school run, after-school activities, cooking, cleaning and walking the dog. Somewhere in between all of these chores she finds the time to write.
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