What does the face of FGM look like? Clue: you know it better than you think. Female Genital Mutilation is a practice so barbaric it’s uneasy to contemplate - the painful reality of what millions of girls around the world are subjected to each year can sit more comfortably when it’s thought of in a faraway country, faraway ‘cultures’, removed from our society. It’s not: the face of FGM is sitting next to on the 38 bus home. She’s choosing the same dress as you in Topshop, and dancing next to you on Friday night. She’s the girl that grew up with you, who was too afraid to speak of the terrifying experience she went through one day when you were still playing with dolls.
Today, is Zero Tolerance Day on FGM. It’s the day that we all take a stand against the brutal harming of over 140 million girls worldwide - and speak up for the 66,000 women in the UK still suffering the effects of FGM. A further 23,000 right here in Britain are at risk of FGM each year - today, we call for that to end in one generation.
FGM is gender-based violence. It’s child abuse, and a lethal legacy of the patriarchal control that has harmed women for centuries. There are four forms of FGM, all equally inhuman, which range from the removal of part, or all, of the clitoris - meaning many women can never orgasm - to the sealing of the vaginal opening through a repositioning of the labia. The procedure - which, in some cases, can result in death from bleeding - can often lead to infections and septicaemia. Later, it can cause extremely painful periods due to build up, painful sex and complicated childbirth. The psychological effects are just as bad.
“FGM is a global problem that needs a global solution,” says Tanya Barron, CEO of global children’s rights organisation, Plan UK. “Plan believes we can end FGM in a generation, but only if we see if for what it is. FGM is not an anomaly; it does not exist in a vacuum. It is a violent abuse of basic human rights that stems from a belief that girls and women are less important and less valuable than boys and men.”
The UK government is taking action. Today a new five-year international campaign was announced by Lynne Featherstone, Minister for International Development, along with news this week that, for the first time, the NHS will be able to collect real data from FGM victims, with the aim of giving us more information to tackle it as effectively as possible.
Nimko Ali, 30, an FGM survivor and co-founder of non-profit FGM awareness organisation Daughters of Eve, spoke to Grazia in this week’s issue. “Nobody can save the millions of girls who have been cut, but we can save the next generation from the horrors of mutilation. We have to.”