As part of our series of blogs about the upcoming vote on WI resolutions (for more details, see our earlier blog post), we turn our attention to the practice of female genital multilation (FGM). We’re writing these posts to kick-start the debate about these issues in advance of our November meeting; they don’t reflect any particular view or an ‘official’ view of the Sotonettes Committee so please read them with that in mind. We want to know what our members think so please let us know on Facebook or Twitter.
“This AGM directs the NFWI to call on the government to give widespread disclosure and publicity to the practice of female genital mutilation as affecting British citizens in the country and abroad and supports the education campaign.”
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is the name given to a set of practices which involve the partial or total removal of external female genitalia or injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. It’s recognised internationally as a violation of the human rights of women and girls, it was unanimously banned by the UN General Assembly and it’s illegal in the UK, carrying the penalty of up to 14 years in prison. It’s easy to wonder why this is something the WI needs to speak out about, as surely this is something that doesn’t affect the lives of British women. In fact, there are around 66,000 women in the UK living with the severe pain and ongoing health issues which are caused by FGM, and there are an estimated 23,000 girls under the age of 15 at risk of undergoing FGM. Despite these shockingly high numbers nobody in the UK has been prosecuted under the existing law.
Three million girls worldwide are thought to undergo FGM every year, and while internationally the UK campaigns against it, the lack of action on the issue at home is putting British women at risk and undermining our ability to campaign on the issue abroad. Data from London hospitals published by the Evening Standard this year shows that upwards of 2000 London women have sought treatment for the results of FGM in the last three years alone. This is likely to be the tip of the iceberg with many more girls and women prevented from seeking medical care from what is effectively unnecessary major surgery conducted by untrained individuals outside of a hospital environment.
This resolution would draw attention to the issue, which many people don’t realise is faced by women in the UK. It would particularly highlight the shameful lack of enforcement of the existing laws. The WI has a history of campaigning on issues faced by women and girls and has a commitment to campaigning on issues promoting human rights for all women.
However, there are arguments against making this the 2014 WI Resolution. It’s already something which organisations including London WIs are campaigning on. The lack of enforcement of the existing law is something which has been noted at the highest level, with the DPP already working with the Police and Social Services on a policy review. It is also debatable whether prosecutions would be the best way to eradicate FGM, with many groups instead advocating education within communities where FGM is practiced.
While it’s undoubtably an issue that must be stamped out in Britain and worldwide, the question remains as to whether this resolution would really be helpful.