FGM: What can we do to protect women worldwide?

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FGM otherwise known as Female Genital Mutilation is a surgical process that is carried out on a number of young women and girls in multiple areas of the UK, Australia, US and in Islamic countries in Africa and Asia. It is a process that involves clipping and mutilating female genitalia in order to prevent sexual maturation and enjoyment as it is believed to be a key element in creating a good marriage match. It has caused disastrous and even fatal effects in its victims.

After-effects include infertility, pain during urination and sexual intercourse and even potential death during childbirth. It has become a severe issue for so many young Islamic girls and women simply because it is an admired patriarchal custom in many Islamic cultures. I recently read an article in the Guardian concerning a man named Michael Gove and his campaign to eradicate FGM with the introduction of laws banning the procedure within the United Kingdom, but many Islamic parents with teenage and younger daughters have sought to leave the country illegally, taking their children to many North American, African and Asian countries where the performance of such procedures is not prohibited. I have never been more upset, or more moved to crying over an article than when I read the accounts of victims, such as 17 year old Fahma Mohamed and Somali supermodel Waris Dirie, as they relayed their physical experiences of being held down and being forced into the FGM procedure. It was after being so touched by their stories and individual campaigns that I thought it essential to write this article.

Studies and collective findings by the Orchid project, a female health and welfare foundation, discovered that the FGM operations and procedures occur predominately in Iraq, Iran, Malaysia and Thailand within Asia as well as Somalia, Egypt, Gambia and Ethiopia in Africa, to name but a few. The Orchid project suggests that it is not the fault of male members of Islamic cultures and communities by dually noting that whilst traditional female cutters generally carry out the procedure, the practice is becoming increasingly common in medical settings and being carried out by both male and female health workers. Studies have shown that more than 18% of FGM operations taking place worldwide are performed by healthcare workers, including doctors and nurses. The facts can be devastating for many to accept, but the question is if such procedures are now illegal within the UK, do they still take place and, if so, how can they be stopped?

22 year old teaching assistant Felicity Hathway responds to the issue when she states “24000 girls in the UK are thought to be at risk and FGM has been illegal for 28 years, yet there have been no prosecutions in the UK. In France there have been more than 100, so I think it is an issue with communication as doctors and healthcare agencies have failed to report anything.” Similarly, English student Hannah Tracey identifies that “different cultures have different beliefs and ideals and they are taught that things should be a certain way from birth. However, when it harms someone else, especially against their will, then I am disgusted. These young girls are being robbed not only of their dignity, health and sexual pleasure as adults, but also possibly the chance to have a family and most importantly their choice. To have these procedures forcibly done is outrageous and the fact that the authorities don’t really seem to do anything about it just reinforces the idea that it’s ok and their cultures can continue to do it to their children.”

Fellow English student Leanne Desmond also highlights the significance of the issue as “Quite simply there has to be more discussion about it as right now many people don’t realise that this is happening. There should be more support available for those who may be being pressured into this so they can make reasoned choices in an impartial environment.
We need to be willing to prosecute and provide more support for these women and girls to come forward in the first place.  This is not about respecting religious beliefs, it is about stopping young women being unnecessarily mutilated against their will.”

Radiography student Bronwen Collins-Jones explains the severity by stating that “A lot of my friends are student midwives and this issue arises frequently in midwifery and delivery practices”.

Based on the opinions given, it is clear that not enough action is being taken to help such victims of mutilation and that such issues are not being treated or resolved with the lawful seriousness that they deserve.

It is important therefore for me to note that Shoreline theatre group, which many of you will know as the Swansea University drama society, has just finished another successful production of The Vagina Monologues. This was a charity event where the proceeds raised from entry fees will go to the Swansea Women’s Centre and Women’s Aid. The monologues, written by American author and female activist Eve Ensler address a number of women’s experiences and oppressions, including the issue of FGM. For those of you who missed Shoreline’s performance on Thursday, but would like to know more about the issues raised in this article, may wish to grab yourselves a copy of the play (available in paperback from all good book retailers).

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                                                              The Vagina Monologues Poster used by Shoreline for its 2014 event

Finally, if you feel that you or someone you know may be at risk of FGM, or have experienced the process and would like to talk to someone in a safe environment,  please feel free to contact the Swansea Women’s Aid group who can provide physical, psychological and social support: http://www.swanseacharitypartnership.org.uk/womensaid.shtml

By Naomi Dunn

For more information on FGM please visit http://www.orchidproject.org

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