The campaign to end Female Genital Mutilation (FMG) has taken a positive step in the right direction after British Prime Minister David Cameron unveiled new measures to crackdown the practice in England and Wales.
Describing it as a “cruel, barbaric practice”, Cameron has ordered ministers to rush through new powers before schools break up next month to prevent girls from being taken abroad. As part of this, parents will face prosecution if they fail to stop their daughters undergoing FGM.
Fatoumata Jatta, a 33-year-old trained lawyer from London, was a baby when she had the procedure done. Up until a year ago, she had not spoken to anyone about her experiences.
However, it was thanks to a three month project, which she undertook as part of her job in psychology research that forced her to face up to the past.
She said: “I was quite lucky as my clitoris was cut. I only found out a few weeks ago that I was a baby when it happened as I thought I was five years old, and couldn’t remember so I asked my mother. If you’re a bit older you remember it happening and it’s quite traumatic.”
FGM is sometimes referred to as female genital cutting or female circumcision and intentionally alters or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. There are no health benefits as many of the victims suffer from long-term side-effects, such as infertility, lack of sexual pleasure and increased risk of childbirth.
Jatta who moved to the UK from Gambia at the age of 13, organised an event earlier this month to raise money for the grassroot charity Beyond FGM and help others in similar situations.
The Question Time-style conference was attended by the UK’s leading campaigners including Leyla Hussein, the co-founder Daughters of Eve, non-profit organisation and Joy Clarke an FGM specialist midwife and clinic lead at Whittington Hospital.
Jatta said: “I wanted to give back something that empowers me and take control of the situation and hopefully empower other women who might have been in similar situations.
“Seeing Leyla who wasn’t ashamed, embarrassed or felt less as a woman, made me accept myself more, and also the impact it has had on my happiness and well being and how important it is, so I decided to speak up.”
FGM is flourishing in Africa and the Middle East, such as Egypt, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan and is commonly carried out for cultural, religious and social factors within families and communities.
The numbers of women forced to undergo the procedure in the UK are also shockingly high. Latest figures suggest that as many as 66,000 women in England and Wales have been subjected to FGM and 23,000 girls under the age of 15 are “at risk.”
Thanks to therapy, Jatta has now comes to terms with what happened to her: “Grandmother thought she was doing the best for me, but if I had the choice I wouldn’t do it and that’s really important for me to say.”
She added: “The actual issue around the [FGM] campaign is two-fold. The first one is changing people’s mind and making them aware of the damages both physically and mentally.”
Last month, Nigeria passed the Violence Against Persona Prohibition (VAPP) Bill, criminalising the practice, which involves removing part of all of a girl’s outer sexual organs. Although this sends out a positive message to the world, advocates warn that social norms need to change to make it effective.
Jatta said: “We have to find ways of reaching girls in more in remote places and where they are actual more likely to be taking part it in the practice and having it stopped practically not just legal. It’s great the law has banned it, but only time will tell if it makes a difference.
“Beyond FGM is still fundraising for a refuge centre in Kenya because if you decide to say no to your family that means you are isolated in a way and you need to have support around that. So the idea of people working on the ground and actually providing help is the next step I imagine for the Nigerian government and ensuring that it doesn’t happen.”
Rukayah Sarumi, the campaign and advocacy manager at the Foundation for Women’s Health Research and Development (FORWARD), a UK-registered charity leading the work to safeguarding the rights of African girls and women agreed.
She hoped the signing of the bill would influence the other African countries where FGM is still legal and widely practiced.
She said: “An end to FGM also requires an integrated approach and a strong aspect of this is an enabling legislative framework.
“The bill signed by [former] President Goodluck Jonathan will embolden those working to combat FGM, hopefully encourage further protection for women and girls at risk of, and affected by it, and send a clear communications message that it is a form of violence against women and girls.”
The organisation recently launched a new animated film titled Needlecraft to demonstrate the impact FGM can have on lives.
“FGM will require committed and ongoing work and commitment by a range of actors, campaigners, civil societies and more. We must address the norms that underpin the practice in a contextualised and sensitive manner. Power and agency must be given to those with an investment in the practice, and alternatives must be discussed,” said Sarumi.
Content warning: Video is not suitable for under 16’s.