No longer a taboo subject, women and men are standing strong and loud against FGM.
“I had it done when I was very young, between the age of 9 and 10,” recalls Mary Mwangi, 47, from West London. “It was an old lady who did it, she used a razor”. She pauses to regain strength. “She cut my clitoris off.” The sound of betrayal echoed in her voice and the fear she once had reflected in her eyes as she recalled the day she went through Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Mrs Mwangi is one of the 66,000 victims living with the consequences of FGM in the UK. She was mutilated whilst living in Nairobi, Kenya.
FGM is practised around the world mostly in Africa, Middle East, Asia and Brazil as a form of ‘culture’, the girls are told it’s a right of passage to womanhood. “I was told it was for maturity, I remember, they would call you names and make you feel odd if you were a uncut girl.” Says Mary.
A non-medical trained person usually performs FGM with no anaesthetic and re-used tools such as a used razor. There are many physical and psychological complications that are associated with FGM victims. Not only when the procedure is done but also the long-term effects that stay with them.
Recent reports have revealed that over 65,000 British girls are at risk of having FGM and being taken to countries that practise this during school holidays. Whilst Official figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre reveal that the NHS have treated more than 2,603 women and girls for FGM since September 2014 and that 499 girls were treated in January this year.
Comic relief is currently supporting the fight against FGM as well as other charities working to end it in the UK. The Foundation for Women’s Health, Research and Development (FORWARD) in particularly is working hard to educate people on the issue.
Adwoa Kwateng- Kluvitse the head of Global Advocacy and Partnership at FORWARD says: “I think everybody has a role to play in raising awareness of the issue, in challenging communities practising the issue and protecting girls who are at risk of having it done and to make sure that FGM is not linked to a ‘good marriage’.”
Mrs Mwangi echoes those words “I condemn it, I will never let my daughter go through it, I believe more girls should be educated on it, that they can say no and it is not a way to woman hood it is just a way to oppress women.”
FORWARD, a leading African diaspora women’s campaign and support charity focuses on three things, FGM, child marriage and Obstetric fistula. But their discussion of FGM is unlike any other campaign and unique in its approach.
The show room at FORWARD’s ‘something about bodies’ art exhibition held at the Red Gallery in East London is vibrant filled women and men from different ethnicities and cultures. All eyes are pinned to the powerful and bright artwork hung on the blank, crystal white canvases. The significance of the messages communicated through the art pieces is phenomenal, it depicts the pain and strength it takes to over come FGM. Art is one way in which the charity aims to bring forward gender equality and advance the safeguarding of the sexual and reproductive health, rights and dignity of African girls and women.
Poems read with such ease yet passion by FORWARD’s Youth team Young People Speak Out (YPSO) grip the audience as they learn the horrors and destruction of FGM through beautifully rhythmical spoken word. Youth member and poet Kadra Abdinasir, 25, explains why they use poetry: “Nobody really knows what FGM is and I wanted to understand it more myself and help other people comprehend it and get their facts straight, ” She then pauses and smiles. “People don’t realise its not actually something that is prescriptive in any religion, it actually pre-dates religion. It’s part of a whole wider patriarchal system. We need to understand it in the context of gender-based violence.”
The issue of FGM has become more widely discussed. Saria Khalifa the Leader of YPSO says: “I remember 5 years ago when I started on the youth program we would do one school every three or four months because they were not interested, but now we are averaging two or three schools a week!”
So far FORWARD has access to over 60 schools across London and they have just reached over 8,000 students. “We work with secondary school students as part of FGM awareness. We do staff training, parent sessions and we also help young people run campaigns in their schools,” Says Ms Khalifa. She adds, “We spend a lot of time in schools to try to get young people to understand how to create a supportive environment for girls and women to disclose and to feel as if they can get help if they need it.”
Further work is being done to ensure children are taught about FGM in schools. The personal Social Health & Economic Education (PSHE) worked with the Home Office and the Department of International Development (DFID) to create FGM as part of the PSHE curriculum in secondary schools, but there is a current problem with the education system. Ms Kwateng- Kluvitse says: “There is a challenge in education, PHSE is no longer compulsory in the school curriculum so where do we place teaching FGM?”
“What we are doing instead, is targeting schools with high proportions of children from practising communities to raise awareness for both boys and girls as to the health and human right violations of not only FGM but also child marriage.”
It is important for young women and men to learn about FGM in the UK and around the world. By raising awareness the world will be one step closer to abolishing the practice.
- There are four common types of FGM
- 125 million girls and women have experienced FGM globally
- On average girls undergo FGM between the ages of 5-8
- 24,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk in the UK
- Over 23 different health complications can occur as result of FGM
- Only 15% of midwives were familiar with available resources on FGM and where to refer women
- FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985
- Practicing FGM in the UK carries a prison sentence of up to 14 years
For support, visit http://www.forwarduk.org.uk or call 020 8960 4000
By Priscilla Ngethe