Over 200,000 people have signed a petition started by Bristol school student Fahma Mohamed demanding government action over Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
The petition calls on education secretary Michael Gove to instruct headteachers to talk to students and families about the issue.
One estimate is that around 65,000 women in Britain have undergone some form of FGM, the highest number in Europe.
However, this is simply projected from census figures of women from countries where FGM is practiced.
Najah Farah, a care worker in Bristol, started campaigning against FGM from the age of 15, when she was at the same school as Fahma.
She told Socialist Worker that the call for government intervention can work in two ways.
“It could frighten those involved in the practice to back off,” she said. “But it can also raise family issues.
“Mothers may come down hard on daughters who raise it. They may also worry that social services may get involved in their families.”
Many Muslim girls and young women who already feel stigmatised in society do not see the police, or other authorities as offering a solution. They may be reluctant to report their own parents or other family members.
Najah said, “We had a girl at school who just arrived from Somalia. Some students thought she was lazy as she didn’t join in with the dance and gymnastics.
“I got talking to her in the toilets and she told me she had just been through FGM. Her experience brought tears to my eyes.”
But Najah added, “Some of my friends are worried and embarrassed about talking about this in public.”
She is also concerned that campaigning against FGM will be another excuse to demonise Muslims as people associate it with Islam.
“People are worried about groups such as the English Defence League taking it up, although this is not about religion,” she explained.
Najah wants to see more education and awareness about the issue, before going to prosecutions.
Criminalisation is not a way forward. FGM has been illegal in Britain since 1985.
And since 2003 it has also been illegal to perform FGM on a British citizen outside Britain. Yet no prosecutions have ever taken place.
The Tories want to pose as defenders of oppressed women because of the support for the petition.
Yet they consistently block asylum claims from women fleeing persecution.
Olayinka Olatunde is a 17 year old from Nigeria who fled to Britain with her family to avoid FGM. Her sister died after undergoing it. Five years on she is still fighting for asylum.
Socialists need to expose politicians’ hypocrisy while supporting campaigns to eradicate FGM.
Different forms of FGM are practiced in different societies and at different ages.
It can involve removal of the clitoris. Or it can mean the removal of the outer labia and sewing up of the vagina’s entrance. In such cases the woman has to have her vagina cut open before sexual intercourse.
FGM is often performed with no anesthetic by people, usually women, with no medical training.
Its roots lie in tradition, not religious doctrine.
Although it is most prevalent in countries with large Muslim populations, most of the world’s Muslims do not practice FGM. It is also practiced by some Christian communities.
A 2013 Unicef study reported that pressure to conform was cited as the most common reason for FGM.
It calculated that more than 125 million girls and women alive today have been cut.
Women who have undergone FGM can suffer serious and sometimes lifelong health and psychological problems.
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