It has taken a long time but 34 years after making FGM a criminal offence, the UK finally has its first ever successful prosecution for FGM. In this heart-breaking case, a mother was found guilty of subjecting her three year old daughter to FGM. The girl’s father who was also accused was cleared of all charges.
I support the work of the police and Crown Prosecution Service to achieve this landmark prosecution. After years of claims that it was not doing enough to prosecute FGM cases, the UK is now sending a strong message that it will put children first and it will seek justice for girls who are cut. However, this case is not the end for the girl who was cut and must live with the consequences or for those of us campaigning against FGM. For us the biggest battle still lies ahead.
FGM is one of the worst forms of child abuse and it does not occur in isolation. This is a practice which has its roots in patriarchal misogyny which denies women and girls rights to their bodies and their sexuality. The mother in this legal case committed a crime and she is now being held to account for that but if we want to protect other girls and prevent FGM we need to tackle its underlying causes.
For centuries men have demanded that their daughters are cut to maintain the girl’s purity and to ensure she will be a meek wife after marriage. Potential husbands demand that their wives have had FGM and refuse to marry uncut girls. Women who resist are subject to enormous social pressure and violence to force them to conform. Girls are forced to run away from home to try to avoid FGM. Women and girls are caught in a vicious cycle of harm that passes from generation to generation. Feminist writer and activist Mona Eltahawy describes this in a powerful thread on Twitter.
This is why I fight every day to support women living with FGM as well as to safeguard girls at risk. It is a very personal fight as it is my story too. I was cut when I was only 7 years old but I did not fully understand what FGM was and what it represents until I was 21 and had a new baby daughter. I could have been a mother who would cut my daughter if not for the intervention of an amazing nurse who knew about FGM. Instead she helped me become a mother who protects her daughter from the harm of FGM and now we need to make sure that this is not an exception that only happens by chance. We must support all women.
I am glad that the UK has its successful prosecution but very sad that that it came at such a great cost to the girl who was cut. I hope that now politicians and policy makers who have been clamouring for the law to be put into practice will turn their attention to how we prevent FGM. We must not relax and instead we should use this legal case a catalyst to step up work against FGM. Our health, teaching and other professionals must be trained and supported so that they comply with all their legal and safeguarding responsibilities on FGM. We also need to invest in community-based work which is essential to educate about FGM and challenge the beliefs that underpin it.
Most importantly, it should be a priority to support FGM survivors. Women who have had FGM need specialist care and I founded Dahlia Project six years ago to do just that as there was only a pitiful level of support available. Our service helps survivors to heal and cope with the trauma of FGM, it also supports them in protecting their daughters and granddaughters. I ended the cycle of FGM in my family and I have seen many other inspiring women do the same. This gives me hope for a better future not only for my daughter but for all girls.