On Tuesday night I watched a BBC news report that shared some shocking figures about female genital mutilation. It was reported that between 2009 and 2013, a staggering 795 patients were treated by one UK hospital alone.
According to the report, at least 66,000 girls and women in the UK are believed to be victims of FGM. Add to that the hundreds of thousands of girls and young women that are victims of FGM in other countries, and you get a sense of just how immense the problem is.
It is unsettling to know that in an age when women’s rights, women’s empowerment and equality are more prominent than ever, FGM continues to be a daily occurrence.
For those of you who don’t know very much about FGM, it is defined by the World Health Organisation as “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons”. FGM has no health benefits and harms girls and women in many ways.
In most cases, this awful practice is carried out and justified in the name of tradition, religious belief or preservation of virginity. According to The Foundation for Women's Health, Research and Development - FORWARD - the most common age that FGM is carried out is between four and 10. If this wasn’t distressing enough, the procedure is generally carried out by an older woman with no medical training, is excruciatingly painful, and can have severe medical implications long term.
Understandably, the BBC broadcast has caused uproar, engaging discussion and intense scrutiny. While concerns of FGM in the UK have been bubbling under the surface for the past year or so, putting this longstanding issue under the spotlight can only be a good thing.
More needs to be done to educate affected populations, to train medical staff; to offer care and – if needed – shelter and protection to victims and those at risk; to improve reliable data collection; and to strengthen law enforcement against those that support and carry out FGM.
WARNING: Please be aware some scenes are distressing.
But there are positive developments: the Department of Health announced that as of next month, all NHS hospitals will be able to record if a patient has undergone FGM or if there is a family history of it. While this may seem a small step, it’s an important one. And every time FGM is covered in the media, more people are gaining an understanding of this awful practice and hopefully more victims will speak out.
You can find out a lot more in this film narrated by Meryl Streep, The Cutting Tradition.
Join me in standing against FGM: