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Home Secretary condemns FGM at London conference

TAKING A STAND: (L-R): Robert Buckland QC and Solicitor General, Julia Lalla-Maharajh OBE of Orchid who campaign against FGM, campaigners Sarah Newton, Gemma Munday, Home Secretary Amber Rudd, Sarian Karim-Kamara, Lord Bates of the Department for International Development and Nicola Blackwood representing the Department of Health

EARLIER THIS month, the British Home Secretary Amber Rudd hosted a forum to end Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in London Victoria.

Geared at making a difference to the widespread practice which impacts thousands of women across the world, government ministers, frontline professionals, charities, campaigners and survivors in attendance heard how efforts can be co-ordinated to put an end to FGM.

With all of the campaigning around the issue, the world has yet to see a FGM perpetrator brought to justice in a court of law; which is a deep aspiration of all who were in attendance not least of all, the Home Secretary herself.

The forum also shared success stories and testimonials by some who have been affected such as Sarian Karim-Kamara, an FGM survivor and community support worker, Founder of the Orchid project Julia Lalla-Maharajh OBE, Gemma Munday and Sarah Newton.

Having been inspired to act on FGM by Battersea MP Jane Ellison, who has campaigned tirelessly against it for many years, the Home Secretary is extremely vocal about this particular cause and passionate in her conviction to raise awareness about it.

Beyond Africa

Although the practice is not limited to Africa, FGM is socially-endorsed and greatly valued by many ethnic groups in places such as Egypt, Somalia, Kenya and Sudan. This normalised form of violence against women has happened to more than 90% of females in some countries within the continent and with emigration, there has been a ripple effect overseas.

Despite the well-documented suffering the practice causes, some critics of the global anti-FGM movement are bewildered by the west’s involvement in a cultural practice that it has never been a part of. Some question whether or not it is the UK government’s place to legislate against FGM, as a body modification process we are largely unfamiliar with. Others have branded the campaigning as a case of western, cosmopolitan offence over what the foreign ‘other’ cherishes as a valued cultural norm rather than being a legitimate universal concern.

Proactive

The Home Secretary is very clear about her response to such views and insists:

“The UK is a country that will not tolerate any violence against women and that’s what we’re talking about here. We will always oppose it. We’ve legislated against it and the purpose of the forum was to find out what else we can do to go further”.

“I think critics of the anti-FGM stance are wrong. You listen to authentic voices like Sarian [Karim-Kamara] and you hear about how they are turning around their social norms”.

She adds:

“FGM does not just take place in Africa. We haven’t just been focusing on African communities; we focus on where we find that it’s being done”.

Even with resistance, individuals and groups lobbying for a global end to the practice seem to vastly outweigh those who do not according to the Home Secretary, who says: “I think that if there weren’t that [resistance] then it [FGM] would’ve probably been eradicated by now. I tend to encounter the people who want to make the change”.

Now is good time for female political leaders and decision makers in the UK; with a female Prime Minister currently in power [Theresa May] and a female Home Secretary, one could hope that this will help to bring about positive change to the legions of women who have been adversely impacted by FGM.

The Home Secretary is hopeful: “David Cameron was very strong on this issue and one of the reasons was because a lot of female MPs were raising it. In terms of violence against women - the more women we get involved, the better”.

It has been acknowledged, however, that there is yet more work to be done. The Home Secretary reflects in a closing statement: “I am very pleased that we now have unequivocal legislation but that’s not all we need. I think the most effective thing we can do as a government is set out framework; having very clear legislation, reporting, recording and mostly empower the communities to have the conversations”.

“In terms of my priorities in trying to deliver change, it’s about getting the community voices out”.

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