To eradicate FGM we must tell the victims’ stories, says North West MEP

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 | By Samar Maguire

A North West MEP has called for the EU to set out it’s plan of action to combat female genital mutilation, suggesting that victims must become the ‘right holders’.

Julie Ward MEP, a member of the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality committee, claims that more ‘compassionate’ forms of politics are needed to achieve ‘zero tolerance’ towards FGM.

Labour MEPs met on Monday to ask the European Parliament to set out measures to tackle FGM and how their plan of action will work in practice.

Ms Ward believes that campaigns have their limits and issues need to be resolved through factors such as shifting our language to turn victims into the ‘right holders’.

“Campaigns have a lifespan but issues do not go away so we must continue to speak out, together with civil society, in order to raise public awareness and move closer to the next goal which is zero tolerance,” she said.

“One of the most powerful ways to do this is to encourage and support affected communities to bear witness to their experiences. Through the telling of stories of those who have experienced the pain of mutilation and circumcision, we break the taboo and stigma which surrounds the ritual.

“Through sharing the testimonies of others who have been involved, such as health professionals, lawyers and community workers, men as well as women, we show how this is an issue that must be tackled at home as well as abroad.

“Zero tolerance for the practice of FGM must come about with more tolerance and open discussion of the practice, and the suffering it brings about. We must embrace all those affected by enacting a more compassionate form of politics, raising the pitch of public debate, changing the language we use so that victims become ‘rights holders’.”

Ms Ward’s comments come just days after the UN marked the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation at their New York headquarters on February 6.

UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka gave the keynote speech to a gathering that included UNICEF and UNFPA.

She said: “This is truly a global issue. This practice is one of the most horrific violations of a young girl’s body. Of her rights. Of her future.

“FGM has absolutely no health reason nor benefit. Instead, the procedures can cause life-threatening complications, whether performed by health professionals or by traditional circumcisers.

“Each new generation of girls is born with the right to live as a full human being with control over her own body. Each new generation offers a rich resource of talent, intelligence and enterprise to bring to society.

“By irreversibly damaging them in this way, we cripple and stunt their potential, both physically and mentally. And society as a whole is the loser.”

In half the countries with available data, the majority of girls were cut before age five.

Girls and women that have undergone FGM are 70% more likely to suffer hemorrhage after giving birth and are twice as likely to die during childbirth.

Twenty-four African countries have laws against FGM, but 12 industrialised countries with migrant populations from FGM-practising countries also have legislation.

“A vital part of breaking the cycle and eliminating FGM is the empowerment of girls and women, together with women – and men – speaking out to deny the practice, and changed societal attitudes as to how girls are valued,” said Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka.

“Today, nearly one-fifth of all FGM procedures are performed by healthcare providers, from doctors to midwives. The trend towards medicalization is increasing – in some countries the rate is as high as 74%.

“Yet medicalising the procedure to make it ‘safer’ is not a solution. It is missing the point. This is not an act of caring. It is a culturally sanctioned act of controlled violence and violation.

“Overall, the chance that a girl will be cut today is about one-third lower than it was around three decades ago. Clearly, progress is being made. However, population growth means that without dramatic change, the number of girls and women and girls affected will continue to grow.

“If action against FGM is not accelerated, as many as 30million more girls alive today may be cut in the next decade alone.”

In 2009, the European Parliament estimated that 500,000 females in Europe are living with the consequences of LGM today, with a further 180,000 at risk every year.

The world health organisation (WHO) has estimated that 140million females worldwide are living with the consequences of FGM.

MM reported last month that sex crimes are ‘rife’ across Manchester, as vast incidents of sexual violence, human trafficking and genital mutilation are going unreported.

Kate Allison, a spokeswoman for Manchester Action on Street Health (MASH), an organisation which aids sex workers, said: “We are extremely busy. We were increasingly busy last year. We saw over 1,100 individual women.

“What we are seeing is an increase in women returning to sex work, who had previously stopped who are doing a bit as a response to a financial crisis.”

It is reported that while sex workers are vulnerable to violence, the hidden and stigmatised nature of the work meant that victims are less inclined to report incidents.

Ms Ward added: “I have been moved by my encounters with activists from the End FGM European campaign who have shown that by working together, including and supporting women and communities affected by the practice, we can effect change.

“We must continue to work together with all those affected in helping to eradicate the practice.”

Ms Ward was joined by Mary Honeyball MEP, Labour’s spokesperson on women’s rights and gender equality, and Linda McAvan MEP, chair of the European Parliament development committee.