Guest blog by Jess Frampton, member of the London Committee for the UK National Committee for UN Women.
In recent months conversations about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) have moved from whispers and hushed voices to national newspapers and primetime TV. With this in mind, an event organised by the London Committee of UN Women-UKNC proved to be eye-opening, thought-provoking and perfectly timed. The guest speaker, Dr Comfort Momoh MBE, is a leading FGM expert having opened one of the UK’s first dedicated FGM clinics in 1997.
Moolaadé - an inspiring and powerful film
Dr Momoh, along with midwife Joy Clarke from the African Well Women’s Clinic at Whittington Hospital, kicked off the event using excerpts from the award-winning film Moolaadé (meaning ‘magical protection’ in the local language) directed by Ousmane Sembène. The film, set in an African village, tells the story of how a woman who shelters four young girls from FGM starts a conflict that tears her village apart. As one of the critics wrote: “This great work of art has the potential to change the world.”
Dr Momoh used the film to introduce her work at the African Well Women's Clinic at London's St Thomas' Hospital. The clinic treats around 300 women every year and carries out two reversal operations each week.
Dr Momoh described some of the complexities surrounding FGM. “FGM is a very complex issue,” she explained. “Girls can be cut by anyone in the community. It could be a family member – often an elderly grandma with poor eyesight and no medical training. And mothers, who themselves have been through the awful effects of FGM, are sometimes the ones who then want their daughters to have it done. Getting it reported in the UK is difficult as we’d be asking kids to grass on their parents. Education and giving people information is the key.”
Working with communities to end FGM
Dr Momoh then spoke about some of her experiences visiting communities where FGM is practised. “When I was in Kailahun in Sierra Leone there was a big celebration as they were preparing 50 girls for FGM,” explained Comfort. “I cried the whole time I was there. But you can’t go in and just change things like that. You need to work with the communities – the men, the women, the elders - you need to work with them to change their mindset.” She went on to say that it would be possible for the communities to keep the important celebrations but without the cutting.
Event attendees joined the discussion and shared their experiences of the conflict that FGM can cause in communities. “When I was in a Somali refugee camp I met a couple who had committed not to have their daughter cut,” said Dr Ann-Marie Wilson, Founder and Executive Director of 28 Too Many. “Because of this decision the local community ostracised them – the husband couldn’t work in the market anymore and the wife wasn’t allowed to draw water in the well. You have to change the community’s mindset – you can’t ostracise individuals.”
“Speaking out helped me break the taboo”
Some of the event attendees bravely shared their first hand experiences of FGM. “I grew up in Sierra Leone and my parents were well-educated professionals,” commented Alimatu Dimonekene, one of the event attendees. “When I was 16 – just before I came over to England – our family had a big celebration party with lots of nice food and everyone was telling me to help myself to the food. My mum looked at me and I knew from her face that something was going to happen. I was cut that day. Later on, when I fell pregnant with my daughter, I went to Comfort’s clinic where she treated me. Now I feel passionately about ending the practice of FGM. Speaking out helped me break the taboo.”
The London Committee of the UKNC for UN Women holds regular events for members covering a range of topics relevant to gender equality and empowering women. To learn more about becoming a member click here.
Please visit the other sections of our website if you would like to learn more about FGM and you can donate if you would like to support our work to end this harmful practice.