Saturday 18 October, 10.00 until 11.30, Hammerson Room, Barbican Contemporary Controversies
Over the past year, female genital mutilation (FGM) has rarely been out of the headlines, from Channel 4’s Cruel Cut video, to high-profile campaigns by the Evening Standard and the Guardian. In December 2013, the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee set up an inquiry into FGM; the former education secretary Michael Gove wrote to schools urging them to protect girls from ‘this very serious form of child abuse’. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers has called on school staff to watch for signs of FGM and to scrutinise holiday requests from members of communities that practise FGM. In May, police and border officials ran an awareness-raising campaign at airports, intercepting families suspected of going abroad to inflict FGM on their daughters. What has prompted all this? While FGM is practised in some African, Middle Eastern and Asian countries, there is no evidence that it is widespread in Britain. It has been prohibited in the UK since 1985, and it is also illegal for British citizens abroad. Nevertheless, it has only recently become the focus of widespread political concern. The first criminal charges for performing FGM came only in March 2014.
Most people agree the practice has no place in modern society but others, including some women from the diaspora who’ve undergone the practice, have expressed concern about the hostility they face from anti-FGM campaigners. A minority in the UK argue FGM is akin to male circumcision, and that in a multicultural society, we should respect traditional practices. Nevertheless, even some of those who view the practice as barbaric warn that anti-FGM campaigns demonise the very communities they claim to be trying to protect. Dr Katrina Erskine, consultant gynaecologist and head of obstetrics at Homerton Hospital in London, has accused the director of public prosecutions, Alison Saunders, of putting politics before the welfare of women, warning that the case selected for the first prosecution (involving an adult woman who had just given birth) risks deterring other doctors and midwives from giving appropriate care. If teachers are to be held responsible for discovering instances of FGM, how can any screening system avoid seeming racist, or are entire school populations to be checked as a matter of course? Nevertheless, others insist action must be taken, and young girls should not have their bodies sacrificed on the altar of moral relativism and political correctness.
So how should we deal with this issue? Is tolerance of different cultural practices a necessity in plural Britain, or is it time to set a benchmark for what is and isn’t acceptable? To what lengths should authorities go to identify potential victims and practitioners of FGM? Is it the job of NHS staff to report routinely any suspicions to the police, or the role of local education authorities to protect children from their parents? If so, where does this leave the notion of parental autonomy? And why has FGM become such a hot topic right now?
Listen to the debate:
director of strategy, policy and evidence, NSPCC
writer, researcher and traveller; retired nurse and fundraiser
Dr Christine Louis-Dit-Sully
research biologist with a life-long interest in social and political issues
senior project manager, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development; FCIPD
A Battle in Print essay. Bríd Hehir argues that the campaign against FGM in the UK is built on dubious statistics and prejudices about Africans. Rather than the current focus on bans and coercion, she argues a more nuanced approach is more likely to reduce the prevalence of FGM and would cause less harm.Bríd Hehir, Battle in Print, 14 October 2014
Britain's first specialist clinic for child victims of female genital mutilation (FGM) is set to open in London next month.BBC, 18 August 2014
Children as young as five should be taught about female genital mutilation (FGM) in school to empower them toLouise Ridley, Huffington Post, 11 August 2014
It is estimated that 125 million women and girls worldwide have undergone FGMHouse of Commons Home Affairs Committee, 25 June 2014
Both female genital mutilation and forced marriage became part of the political agenda in Norway as a result of media publicity.Kristin Marie Skaar, Kilden, 10 June 2014
When London-born Jay was a teenager her mother suggested she join a secret women’s society in Sierra Leone. There would be a big party, new dresses and she would be treated like royalty.Emma Batha and Chiara Ceolin, Rueters, 15 May 2014
As a young girl, Leyla Hussein was forced to undergo female genital mutilation. Here, she explains how she struggled to come to terms with the betrayalLeyla Hussein, Mumsnet, 6 November 2013
Contrary to popular belief, women who have been circumcised can lead healthy sex lives and achieve orgasms, an expert has told SBS’s Insight.Lin Taylor, SBS, 29 August 2013
Female genital mutilation strategies for eradication, 1989
According to a 2013 UNICEF report ‘the dangerous centuries-old tradition is now on a slow but steady decline in key areas around the world’Bríd Hehir, Nursing Blog,