Guest blog by 28 Too Many volunteer Daisy Marshall.
On 26th March Leeds Students for Women International Society hosted a panel discussion on FGM as part of international women’s week.
The event began with an informative power point presentation by Dr Yvonne Obura from the Orchid Project, examining current issues surrounding FGM in the UK, such as loopholes and hypocrisies within the law regarding FGM, and barriers to prevention including low awareness, political correctness, unclear referral systems, and a lack of monitoring or local accountability and how these issues can be resolved with a more proactive approach within the health, social work and education sectors. Professionals in these areas need to know how to identify girls at risk and how to protect them. Dr Obura also believes that it is essential that reporting girls at risk should be not only a professional duty, but a statutory one. As a medical professional, she advises those who want to make a difference within the medical sector to volunteer to develop FGM protocols in their workplace, conduct research and push for FGM training. She also encourages anyone who wants to help end FGM to inform them self on the practice, raise awareness and raise money for the campaign to end FGM
Following this there was a panel discussion with Leyla Hussein, prominent activist, co-founder of Daughters of Eve and face of Channel 4 documentary 'The Cruel Cut'; Dexter Dias, QC who is currently writing the UK bar report on FGM; Hilary Burrage, Sociologist and Writer; and Hawa Sesay, campaigner from the Hawa Trust. The event was chaired by Lizzie Lynch a student from York University. The panel began by discussing the recent increase in media and political attention to FGM, how they believe this has come about through the use of frank, explicit language (e.g. mutilation and child abuse) and placing survivors’ stories at the heart of the issue. The panel also addressed the upcoming FGM related prosecutions, warning that the portrayal of them needs to be carefully handled. It would be easy they say, to demonise an entire community through insensitive media coverage of these prosecutions and this would have a detrimental effect. Marginalising and ostracising practicing communities could actually increase the prevalence of FGM as members try to find solidarity and strength in their cultural practices.
The floor was then opened for questions from the audience. The panel addressed how best to start a grassroots campaign in Nigeria, where an audience member has been faced with a wall of silence; the importance of education in the prevention of FGM and how best to approach the topic of FGM in schools. Leyla offered personal support to an audience member wishing to set up a therapeutic support group for survivors and the panel further clarified issues within the law and the risk of insensitive reporting of the upcoming prosecutions. The hypocrisy within the UK towards FGM was also addressed; while FGM is rightly being challenged, it is currently possible for a woman to have her labia ‘trimmed’ by a cosmetic surgeon in the quest for a ‘designer vagina’; the panel believe that both procedures involve altering the female genitalia unnecessarily in order to be more aesthetically pleasing for men, and both need to be addressed. Leyla spoke about her successful documentary the cruel cut and the scene she regrets not including.
The discussion rounded up on an inspiring note when an audience member asked how we can maintain the current interest in FGM. To paraphrase Dexter’s contribution: once you’ve been made aware of FGM you have two choices; either you can walk away or you can do something, anything to make a change. No matter how small each person’s individual input, together we can make a difference, this is our biggest opportunity to date. If you want to help to eliminate FGM the time is now.
The full video of this event will soon be available here.
Leeds Students for Women International Society are running events and activities all week for international women’s week, you can join their Facebook group for more information.
[Many thanks to Hilary Burrage for sharing her photograph of the panel]