Raising awareness about FGM
06 February 2016
The International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) takes place today February 6th.
FGM, sometimes also wrongly called 'female circumcision' is a horrible form of violence against women and girls, it is a violation of their human rights and particularly their right to bodily autonomy, to choose what happens to their own bodies.
The practice of FGM is a manifestation of deeply entrenched gender inequality where it is practiced. The struggle for gender equality and women's empowerment is a key priority for me personally and it is something that I have tried to emphasise through my work as the Chair of the Committee on International Development.
When the UN agreed to the Sustainable Development Goals last year, it established that every country should work towards gender equality and the empowerment of women. One of the specific targets agreed for achieving this goal was the elimination of harmful practices around the world, including FGM.
This is an important step towards ending this barbaric practice which has been performed on over 140 million women and girls worldwide and from which 30 million more are at risk over the next decade.
Although the majority of FGM occurs in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, we shouldn’t think that this doesn’t concern us in the UK. This is a global problem and it is happening here in Europe. Five hundred thousand women and girls live with the lifelong consequences of FGM in Europe; and another 180,000 are at risk each year. In the UK, more than 1,000 new cases of FGM were recorded by the NHS between April and June last year.
The EU is a strong supporter of gender equality and has given over €100 million to projects and measures specifically targeted to improve women's and girls' rights. We still think that this can be improved on and, together with my Labour colleagues in the European Parliament, I have pushed for further EU action to end the practice of FGM. I was also heavily involved in the development of a new EU framework on gender equality and women's empowerment last year. This framework aims at adapting the culture of the EU external services in order to make sure that gender equality plays a key role in the institutions and policies of the EU.
In the UK, it is crucial to raise public awareness about what FGM is and that it is a crime to practice FGM in the UK or to take a child outside the UK to perform FGM. We also need to engage healthcare professionals to help identify those at risk of FGM, and we must support and empower women community leaders to change perceptions about FGM within the communities where it is a traditional practice.
I recently spoke at Najma’s Say No To FGM Campaign Launch in Sheffield. This event was organised by the charity 'Fixers' and was all about raising awareness, challenging perceptions and empowering women to work for change inside their own communities. It is through initiatives like this that we can help to develop a zero tolerance attitude to FGM in our society.
FGM can be a deeply ingrained cultural practice and belief, and to challenge these beliefs is not a straightforward task but it is not something that we can’t shy away from. In fact, the amount of suffering that FGM causes makes it a task we must take on. Just as we have challenged other cultural norms that have no place in our society, we can challenge the practice of FGM and win.