International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation 2020: The Importance of Breaking the Cycle
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a form of gender-based violence, inflicted on women and girls across every continent. Today, over 200 million women and girls living around the world have been victims of FGM. The majority of victims are young teen and pre-teen girls – though women of all ages can be targeted with this form of violence.
Thanks to efforts by the UN, every 6th February since 2012 charities, human rights advocates, and members of the public have come together to acknowledge the importance of tackling and eradicating this practice, in an International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation.
This year, the theme of the day centres on ‘Unleashing Youth Power’ – a vitally important concept when it comes to FGM. According to those who have been involved in the ongoing campaign to eradicate the practice, there is reason to believe that although FGM has been practiced for decades, with the right action it has the potential to be wiped out in a single generation. Because of this, the focus on educating and mobilising younger generations is absolutely crucial at this time. The focus of advocates, then, is to teach young people – primarily those in Africa and the Middle East – about FGM, why it is a form of violence which must not be tolerated, and how it can be prevented.
Doing this is not only important to help encourage dialogues about female genital mutilation between young people — which will ultimately encourage more girls to come forward and seek support and care if they are victims – but it also helps to break the cycle of abuse. While there are no proven health benefits for FGM (which causes an array of short and long-term physical and mental health conditions) it is deeply entrenched within many communities as a cultural practice, and this forms the crux of the issue and the reason it is such a persistent problem; it is often normalised and passed from generation to generation. Providing education and opening up dialogues for young people can help to change this narrative. For the first time girls and boys living in communities where it is rife can help to dispel myths and misunderstandings about this form of abuse. Not only for one another, but also for their parents and older family-members and – perhaps most crucially – for their children.
The importance of this approach cannot be underestimated. And it is one which should be taken into other communities and walks of life around the world where FGM is still present.
For example, across many communities in Britain, FGM continues to have a presence and hold on the lives of women and girls. And sadly, there is a huge disparity between the way in which authorities and policymakers treat British and non-British nationals. Those with an insecure immigration status – such as those living on a Spouse Visa, or as an asylum seeker – in the UK are especially vulnerable when it comes to FGM.
Due to a combination of hostile immigration policies — which have lead to several cases of racial profiling and discrimination, and various immigration scandals – many migrants around the UK have been afraid to come forward to the police or seek healthcare when they are the victims or witnesses of crime, including when they are the victim of domestic abuse. Such policies and practices have harboured a general distrust and fear of the British authorities within many migrant communities, with many vulnerable and marginalised women opting to go without the help they need from the police, social services, and the NHS.
FGM is an issue which – despite the efforts of several important bodies and organisations – still very much exists behind closed doors. As such, it is a difficult topic to discuss, as is the case for many gender-based abuses, like sexual violence, and forced marriage.
If we are to be rid of this form of violence by 2030, we must act upon the UN’s guidance and seek to mobilise and empower the UK’s youth, particularly those in migrant and marginalised communities. It is only through education and discussion, that young people in these groups will be able to break the silence and end inter-generational cycles of abuse. This is particularly important for women living on the outskirts of the immigration system, such as those with an insecure immigration status, like stateless people and asylum seekers. These women, and their children, need to be able to feel they can not only discuss their abuse, but that they can discuss it with the people who can protect them. Encouraging dialogues between young people will help to achieve this; this will help to build understanding about FGM, and let people feel more comfortable in calling it out.
But this approach is not enough on its own. We need policy-makers, politicians and public service representatives to get behind this. Hostile policies must be entirely wiped out, in a clear and obvious way. Domestic violence laws must also be reviewed and reconsidered, to enshrine the protection of migrant women specifically into UK law. And support networks must be developed and extended – this could involve anonymous drop-in sessions for undocumented migrants, to seek advice on how to deal with FGM and other forms of related gender-based abuse. An asylum amnesty may also be beneficial. Equally, more funding must be given to women’s services across the UK, to ensure every girl and woman is able to seek help when they need it.
Trust is not easily earned back, but it can be – and in this case it is absolutely vital that it is.
Written by Luna Williams for Savera UK. Luna Williams is the political correspondent at the Immigration Advice Service, an organisation providing free legal aid for asylum-seekers, and domestic abuse & trafficking survivors in the UK and Ireland.