At Comment is Free, Leyla Hussain on FGM.
I was cut when I was seven years old. Four women held me down. I felt every single cut. I was screaming so much I just blacked out. I didn’t know what female genital mutilation (FGM) was until the day it happened to me. FGM is one of the worst physical and psychological scars a girl can be left with and I therefore completely endorse and welcome the new report on tackling FGM.
Shudder. It’s an atrocity, yet there are places where it’s both commonplace and mandatory.
A key point of the report, Tackling Female Genital Mutilation in the UK, launched on Monday in the House of Commons, is about holding frontline professionals accountable and empowering them to act to prevent this. Reporting abuse should not be an opt-in or opt-out matter. Also very important is implementing an awareness campaign; I believe FGM should be given the same publicity as HIV and knife crime. Historically there has been such a lack of urgency in confronting and tackling it – we seem to be closing our ears and pretending it’s not happening.
The most important aspect of the report is to treat FGM as a safeguarding issue, as it is child abuse and needs to be stopped. One misconception is that it is similar to male circumcision. It’s much more painful, it can lead to serious and sometimes life-threatening complications and there is no medical reason to do it.
Plus it’s done on girls, not infants. The pain is not forgotten.
I have been heading up a campaign to ask the government to take charge and demanding we stop FGM in the UK for good. It has been filmed as part of a documentary for Channel 4. During filming I looked at British attitudes to FGM and raising awareness among people in this country, as well as visiting practising communities and challenging them to look at why this is happening. My colleagues in Europe often say to me that Britain is a soft touch because their girls are being brought over to the UK to be cut. I think that’s a clear sign that not enough is being done to tackle it. To me, cultural sensitivity is one of the biggest barriers to stopping FGM in Britain. One of the most powerful and disturbing parts of the filming for me was when, to demonstrate that we are walking on cultural eggshells in Britain, I took to the streets asking people to sign a petition in favour of FGM. I was shocked that in less than 30 minutes I got 19 signatures. The fact that people thought it was OK because it’s someone’s culture, was really scary.
She asks that you sign her petition. It’s only for people in the UK though, so I couldn’t sign it. But lots of you do live there. You can’t fool me, I know you do. I watch you.