I gave an exclusive interview to Marie Woolf of the Sunday Times about an announcement I would be making about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) at the 57th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women in March 2013.
However, I wouldn’t give her the figure.
I kept that for the moment when I actually announced the UK new anti FGM funding from the platform at the UN to a hall full of hundreds of people. Campaigners and leaders from around the world on the issue of FGM had gathered to discuss this most extreme form of violence against women and this, I decided, was the right time and right place.
It’s over a year now since I made that announcement and launched a £35million fund to support the anti FGM African-led movement.
Twenty-five countries in Africa have now made it illegal. The African Union took a resolution to the UN just before December 2012 – and the UN resolution passed banning it world wide.
It had the desired effect. I remember well waking up the morning after I had made the announcement to a text from the Evening Standard saying could I do an interview on FGM. So I phoned them, did the interview and they did the rest. It is the publicity that has been our major partner in raising this issue.
I am very optimistic now that we are on our way now – joining hands with all the countries of the world – including in the UK – to end this harmful practise.
With the announcement from the Crown Prosecution Service this week that two men have been charged with FGM and with the Prime Minister’s announcement that FGM and EFM (early and forced marriage) will be the subject of a huge world summit – The Girl Summit in July – all the tireless work of the campaigners who have worked away at this for years is now bearing fruit.
And these women – Nimko Ali and Efua Dorkeeno just two among them – have worked for years to bring us to this point. I remember Nimko coming to see me at the Home Office where I was before I moved to DFID. She was full of anger at the lack of prosecutions and the lack of action on this extreme form of violence against women – mutilation of women’s external sexual parts. I often now say (as there is absolutely no equivalence with male circumcision) that if this had been little boys having all or part of their penis cut off the practise wouldn’t have lasted four minutes let alone four thousand years!
And that meeting left its mark.
David Cameron appointed me as Ministerial Champion for tackling Violence Against Women and Girls overseas when I went to the Home Office in 2010 and I took this title with me when I moved to DFID (Department for International Development). I said almost the minute I arrived at DFID – we are going to tackle FGM. It is my priority. It was always my view – with 20,000 girls at risk in the UK – that with the mother countries and our UK diaspora intrinsically linked – we would have to end it in Africa in order to end it here.
A huge amount is now going on in the UK as well as our international program. The Home Office with my colleague Liberal Democrat Norman Baker, is doing a prevalence study and has also won funding for our own community groups to apply for. The Department of Health, with Conservative Minister Jane Ellison has now announced that FGM will be coded. It didn’t exist in data previously. And that information will be collated at the Department. We have a number of FGM clinics. The Secretary of State for Education is writing to all schools and will also be issuing statutory guidelines on safeguarding and giving schools the tools and information they need. The Ministry of Justice is looking to see if we need any new legislation. And the Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, was saying that they were near to a prosecution – and now one is happening. And Norman Baker and I have met with faith leaders and David Laws (Schools Minister) and I have met with the teaching unions.
If I have learned anything over my time campaigning on FGM – it is that it takes everyone working together to address this.
But I want to pay tribute particularly to the media and encourage their continued support on this issue. Without them – we wouldn’t be at this point. So – huge thanks go to the Evening Standard for their massive campaign almost on a daily basis that has raised everyone’s in London’s awareness and then some; to the Sunday Times who carried the first and exclusive interview on what I was going to do in New York; to the Times who sent a reporter and photographer with me to Senegal, to Chanel 4, to the Guardian and most recently to congratulate BBC Radio London who spent a whole day practically on FGM.
I did an interview with them in the breakfast slot – but was then listening to the Vanessa Feltz program on my way to work where women (survivors) were phoning in with their own most personal and harrowing tales. I was crying. I suspect Vanessa was crying. Such brave women to tell their stories so that we might learn intimately of the abuse they have suffered.
There is an NSPCC FGM helpline if you know anybody who might be at risk or who has been affected and needs support. You can telephone 0800 028 3550 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.