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65,000 call on Michael Gove to help teachers combat Female Genital Mutilation

6th February 2014

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You might not know it, but today (6th February) is the UN's International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM.

If you don’t know what FGM is, let us graphically enlighten you: Female Genital Mutilation is the culturally embedded process that has seen between 125 million and 140 million girls (and counting) being forcibly held down whilst part or all of their external genitalia (labia, clitoris) is removed, without anaesthetic and for non-medical purposes, with a sharp (and often unsterilized) blade.

Here are some of the things that FGM can cause:

-          Extreme bleeding

-          Cysts

-          Infertility

-          Complications in childbirth

-          Increased infant mortality

-          Intense pain during periods/sex

-          HIV

-          Death

FGM happens every single day in countries including Egypt, Somalia and Sudan, and elsewhere across Sub-Saharan and north-eastern Africa, and also in areas of Asia and Europe – and in the UK, England, London. Everywhere, basically.

Statistics are stark: according to the Guardian, there are 66,000 victims in England and Wales, more than 24,000 girls under the age of 15 currently at risk, and more than 2,000 victims seeking out help in London hospitals over the past three years.

Globally three million girls are cut every year and UN believes that, at current rates, 86 million more will have gone through the process by 2030.

Obviously this is not a problem that is just going on elsewhere, but is one that is embedded within our communities, whether it is talked about openly or not.

Although FGM has been illegal in this country since 1985, not one single person has been convicted – which, when the above statistics are considered, is pretty shocking.

Conversation about FGM might be opening up, but with absolutely no convictions get in almost 30 years of it being a crime it hardly looks like we’re making progress here.

Lack of prosecution appears to be because of teachers and police officers fears’ about treading on culturally sensitive ground, the details of which they don’t feel in a position to fully understand – and, of course, that unhelpful old “lack of evidence.”

But imagine if 140 million girls across the world had had their ears, or nose, or fingers cut off for no reason other than tradition. Would that also be classed as too culturally sensitive to discuss?

I doubt it.

But then, private parts and private parts and they’re not something we like to openly discuss in this country, unless we’re talking titillation.

Obviously, we need to get over our inherent look-the-other-way Britishness and realise that something this serious is worth making our business.

In December 2012 the UN made 6th February the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM, in the hope that it will draw attention to and increase conversation about the practice.

Now a 17-year-old girl is calling on Michael Gove to ensure teachers relate to their pupils the dangers of FGM before the summer ‘cutting season’ – where girls from communities that follow the practice are likely to be taken abroad to have the process carried out, or have it done at home in the UK.

Fahma Mohamed, who is being supported in her campaign by the Guardian, states on “I know of people who have been cut - anyone who knows girls from FGM affected communities will know girls who have been cut. We were told Ofsted would be asking schools what they are doing to protect these girls from FGM, but it never happened. 

“Me and my classmates campaigned for our school to do more on FGM. Now all the girls at school know the risks of FGM and feel able to talk about it. But this is one school. We need this to happen at every school in the country - so that no girl is missed.  

“We need to act now. Many girls are sent away to be cut over the summer holidays. Some are cut at home. They call it the 'cutting season'. If every headteacher was given the information they need to talk about FGM to students and parents we could reach every girl who is at risk before the holidays. We could convince families not to send their daughters to be cut and we can help girls who are at risk. We could break the cycle so the next generation is safe.”

The petition itself currently has almost 65,000 signatures, and makes one simple demand:


“Michael Gove, Department for Education

“Tell schools to teach risks of female genital mutilation before the summer.”

It seems like a simple enough request to us.

Will our Education Secretary respond? We’ll just have to wait and see.

Whilst we’re waiting for Gove to do the right thing, sign the petition here and show your support on twitter - #endFGM

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