Female Genital Mutilation: An International Response

FGM. Three letters that have a power to send chills down any spine. It is incomprehensible that someone else could choose to excise a part of a human body, a piece of flesh, and someone’s womanhood.

Also known as female circumcision, FGM involves the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, ie clitoridectomy and infibulation. Mainly preponderant throughout Africa, but also in the Middle East and Asia, it also occurs on our doorstep due to the constant migrations of vulnerable populations to Europe, in particular asylum seekers and refugees. The girls at risk can be as young as the age of 5. This is not a medical procedure: it has no health benefits. Neither does it stem from any religious beliefs. The justification for this procedure is solely cultural.

So why am I writing about this? Does it affect us? You and I are privileged to be in a position where it is our prerogative to speak out on behalf of those who have no voice. Freedom of speech is not a luxury – we own it. We have a power to raise awareness and protect our equals in this world. These cultures can seem worlds away from ours, which may marginalize the issue. Furthermore FGM is not always a priority and comes second to so many other forms of violence. Although strategies and conventions have focused on this cruelty, the fact remains, that according to the WHO, over 125 million girls and women in the world at this moment have been cut and numbers are perpetually increasing. Having access to this knowledge, how can we remain passive?

Before attacking this custom and banning it, it is important to understand why it prevails, as it is difficult to persuade those who uphold and carry out this practice to uproot a deeply entrenched custom overnight. It is still a sensitive topic in many countries, and one that must be addressed with prudence and diplomacy.

For the parents who submit their child to FGM, it may not be considered harmful, an assault or a violation. It is the belief that this is what must be done as a rite of passage to allow a girl to transition to womanhood (cultural and gender identity) or to prevent her from tendencies such as promiscuity or sexual deviation. It is seen as part of a “cleansing process”, to hinder bodily secretions and odours accompanied with maturity. Moreover, it is a means to ensure the purity of the female when presenting her to potential partners. These may be considered as protective measures, but the essence is that it remains a violation of human and women’s rights (it contravenes the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child), the right to life, physical integrity and health.

The social convention theory illustrates how it has become the norm to carry out this practice on girls without their consent, or their realisation of the potential future impact on their lives. This is thus the challenge: to convince not just a minority of the population, be they male or female, to break free from the social norm, but to educate the majority so that they understand the damage, and change their ideology in order to introduce a reversal of expectations. This is established through dialogue.

The United Kingdom is home to a wealth of cultures, including some for whom this practice is commonplace. The country therefore has an important role to play in eradicating this brutal act.

Educating our teachers, healthcare professionals and students at school to remain vigilant about the early signs of those at risk of an imminent procedure or to the symptoms of those who have just been cut is paramount. Signs such as a lack of integration into society, isolation from participating in physical activities, long trips to countries performing this rite and subsequent social withdrawal should be looked out for. It is imperative to provide support in the face of further complications: lasting physical effects, reluctance to seek medical attention, infection and other organ damage, as well as emotional or psychological repercussions.

Resources should be available for those who require legal guidance, and stricter measures put in place for offenders to be prosecuted. In 2003, the Female Genital Mutilation Act declared it illegal to arrange FGM outside of the UK regardless of whether it was legal in the country it takes place. However despite the criminal penalty being up to 14 years imprisonment in the UK for taking girls abroad, until this day no convictions have ensued.

We must recognise that in cultures where FGM is prevalent, avoiding the procedure can be considered as defiant, and individuals concerned are threatened with punishment. This changes the shape of their society from one of safety, to one of endangerment. However culture cannot be a means of justification for breaking the law or violating ones rights.

Abolishing female circumcision involves a multi-disciplinary approach: prosecutions, medical examinations, reporting of violence…

International governments have the manpower to support local communities to introduce educational campaigns. But we must circumvent the existing issues with these campaigns: they are mostly short term and small scale. It is time to think big: implement programmes, but monitor progress and evaluate their effects. Targeting those in power such as tribal leaders, healers, soldiers, and turning those people into role models will influence the communities who seek guidance in these leaders to follow suit. The other side of this coin however is the economic incentive for these matriarchs of society who are well paid for the procedure. Hence despite the steps taken to educate the local population, there is still a need for solutions. This is the ideal intersection for change and collaboration, partnerships and networks intertwined are key.

The access to media and other communications also enables us to propagate a message like a ripple in a pond across borders and achieve a much-required change and combat gender-based violence. There is a movement, but a more urgent effort is crucial to reach all corners of the world.

Rani Chowdhary

A View from the Think Tank: Talk First, Fight Later.

Editor’s Note: This was written before the Commons vote on air-strikes in Syria, but serves as a well-thought through indictment of an ill-thought through rush to war. It is a long read, but an important one. 

The terror attacks that took place on Friday 13th of November 2015 have proved to be a catalyst for a shift in policy away from the containment of ISIS to its destruction. Parallel to this there has been a shifting discourse concerning not only the nature and identity of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, but also of European and western society. The long term cultural impact of recent events has yet to be revealed. However, in the immediate term it is important to present three questions. A) What is the regional context in which ISIS operates? B) How can ISIS be defeated? C) How can regional stability be established? Continue reading “A View from the Think Tank: Talk First, Fight Later.”

TTIP – A corruption of Europe’s own making

Uniting citizens across Europe, bashing TTIP has been a welcome unifier for a continent in chaos. TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, is a trade treaty the European Union is currently negotiating with the US. Whatever our internal differences may be, Europe is united in its dislike of extreme American capitalism. Conservative, liberal or socialist, in the US we would all be shades of Democrat. Right? Well, maybe yes, but US capitalism and its horrors are only a part of the problems inherent in TTIP. We Europeans are to blame for its real problems. Continue reading “TTIP – A corruption of Europe’s own making”

If at First You Don’t Succeed, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Again: Western Delusion and Syria

Editor’s Note: this was initially published on October 30th, before the attacks in Paris, so some references to summits are out-of-date, but the analysis still stands. 

This isn’t working, is it? Ever since the US was enticed into the Syrian Civil War two years ago, once again under the delusion that it can ‘fix’ the Middle East, the conflict has only grown more chaotic, convoluted and deadly. It’s a familiar narrative; from 2002, when President Bush identified Iran, Iraq and Syria as part of an “axis of evil”, American, and very often British, military forces have with impunity entered Middle Eastern states under the pretext of defending the national interest, only to withdraw years later leaving in their wake a great many dead and displaced. This author believes that if the concerned Western forces are to save Syria from total state-failure they must recognise, firstly, the failings of similar recent forays into the Middle East and, secondly, the singularity of the Syrian conflict. Continue reading “If at First You Don’t Succeed, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Again: Western Delusion and Syria”

NATO and an Ethical Foreign Policy: A Reply

A few weeks ago, in our first blog of the academic year, Steven Male compellingly argued for a more ethical foreign policy, and posited several suggestions as to how this may be achieved under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party. Within this piece however, there was one aspect that I found myself fundamentally disagreeing with – the idea that membership, and unquestioning support, of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), was absolutely key to any ethical foreign policy. I felt this played into the common, and flawed, assertion that Putin’s Russia is an expansionist, imperialist power bent on world domination, and that only NATO’s expansion could stop it. I, and in fact many pre-eminent scholars on Russia, including McCgwire, Rynning, and Karabeshkin, disagree with this, both on the idea that Russia is indulging in unprovoked expansion, and that NATO is either a protector of European security or an ethical body. This author believes that if NATO is to perform as an ethical body in foreign policy, or represent a genuine protector of European security, it must undergo a process of self-examination of its actual effectiveness, and a reappraisal of its behaviour. Continue reading “NATO and an Ethical Foreign Policy: A Reply”

The Need for a Unified EU Response to the Ongoing Refugee Crisis

The displacement of millions mainly due to the ongoing Syrian civil war and the rise of ISIS have left Europe facing the largest refugee crisis since the Second World War. A united European response is essential if the values and, indeed, the existence of the European project are to be sustained. This author believes that the current issue of refugees should be detangled from the wider immigration debate and that a coherent response must be found to give asylum to those fleeing persecution.

Continue reading “The Need for a Unified EU Response to the Ongoing Refugee Crisis”

A European Dilemma. Austerity or Democracy for Greece?

A few months ago this author wrote that enforced austerity in Greece was undermining democracy. That, even if loans were repaid and debts exacted, the political cost of pushing people towards anti-European and anti-democratic radicals, would be so much greater in the long run for the future of Europe that no monetary sum was worth the risk. Instead, it argued, Europe should give Greece the economic space it needs to grow. In the heat of this latest crisis, it is necessary to examine first whether this prophecy has come true, that of greater radicalisation, and also whether the prescribed medicine is still the correct one. Continue reading “A European Dilemma. Austerity or Democracy for Greece?”

The Institutional Relationship between the EU and the East: Is Europe in Critical Condition?

On Tuesday, February 10th, a launch event was held at the UK Parliament in order to commemorate the first issue of the publication Trouble in the Neighbourhood. The journal focuses on the complex range of policy issues that Europe is facing, and it poses creative solutions to the region’s complex problems. The publication is just one aspect of the Foreign Policy Centre’s new project, which encourages think tanks and universities to craft policy recommendations and to engage in the broader European community. Continue reading “The Institutional Relationship between the EU and the East: Is Europe in Critical Condition?”