Working together to End FGM

In a truly fair society, no woman or girl would be at risk of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). It is gender-based violence – it is unacceptable and it needs to stop.

But over 60,000 girls in the UK are vulnerable. That’s why I recently held a conference for North London professionals to discuss working together to end FGM.

You can watch a video from the conference here:

As you can see, over 100 health workers, social workers, teachers, police and community group representatives gathered at Hornsey School for Girls.

It was a great event – with sessions for each sector, mixed sessions to discuss an integrated approach to tackling FGM, speeches from survivors and a presentation from students.

There is still a lot of work to do to raise awareness and to protect vulnerable girls. But conferences and conversations like this are important steps in the right direction.

Lynne Featherstone MP discusses FGM awareness with local community champions

Lynne Featherstone with Jan Trust community champions

Lynne Featherstone MP last Thursday joined in with the Jan Trust’s Community Champions Day.

The Trust – who are based in Lynne Featherstone MP’s constituency – held the day as part of their ‘Against FGM’ project.

During the visit, the local MP joined a roundtable discussion on how to raise awareness of FGM, and watched a number of presentations by the community champions.

In Government, the Liberal Democrat MP has launched a £35 million programme to support the African-led movement to end FGM. She has also announced mandatory reporting of FGM for frontline professionals.

The MP for Hornsey and Wood Green also recently held a local conference – attended by over 100 North London professionals – on working together to end FGM.

Lynne Featherstone MP commented:

“Four years ago, very few people had heard of FGM. Now, thanks to the work of brave campaigners, it is very much on the agenda. So many people are working hard to raise awareness and end the unacceptable practice for good.

“We’re really leading the way here in Haringey. It was great to have Jan Trust staff at my local FGM conference, and to attend their community champion project just two days later.

“By working together in Haringey and beyond – we will raise awareness and end FGM.”

Lynne Featherstone MP holds FGM conference in Haringey

Lynne Featherstone MP addresses the North London FGM conference Local MP Lynne Featherstone yesterday held a conference on ‘Working Together to End Female Genital Mutilation (FGM.)’

The conference, which took place at Hornsey School for Girls, was attended by over 100 health, social care, education, police and community professionals from across north London.

The conference was opened by Lynne Featherstone MP, and included speeches from campaigners Nimco Ali and Alimatu Dimonekene. During the opening session, students from Hornsey School for Girls presented a dramatic piece.

Throughout the day, the attendees were split into smaller groups. They discussed the work already being done to end FGM, and how the different sectors could work together to spot warning signs and protect girls.

While a minister at the Department for International Development, Lynne Featherstone announced a £35 million programme to support the African-led movement for change. As Minister of State for Crime Prevention, the Lib Dem MP recently announced that frontline professionals will have a mandatory duty to report cases of FGM.

Lynne Featherstone MP commented:

“FGM is an unacceptable practice. In a truly fair society, where everyone has equal opportunity to get on, FGM would not happen. That’s why we have to keep working together and raising awareness until the day when no girl is at risk of FGM.

“Thanks to brave campaigners like Nimco and Alimatu, ending FGM is now very much on the agenda. As a Minister for Development and now Crime Prevention, I have worked with them and my team in Government to launch a £35 million programme to support the movement to end FGM, and more recently, to announce mandatory reporting.

“And of course, I want to tackle FGM and protect girls locally, too. That’s why I put together the conference – and it was fantastic to see professionals from across North London come together to discuss how to work together to prevent FGM.

“I’d like to thank all the speakers, those who helped organise, and particularly to Hornsey School for Girls for hosting the conference – it was a great success, and hopefully the first of many!”

100 professionals confirmed for local MP’s FGM conference

Youth for ChangeOver 100 North London professionals have signed up to attend Lynne Featherstone MP’s upcoming conference on ‘working together to end FGM.’

Health workers, social workers, police, teachers and community groups will get together at the conference – which is being held at Hornsey School for Girls on Tuesday 17th February.

There will be a number of sessions for professional to discuss how they can best work together to prevent FGM and support local girls.

The conference will be opened by Lynne Featherstone MP, and will also include speeches by prominent FGM campaigners Nimco Ali and Alimatu Dimonekene.

The MP for Hornsey and Wood Green is also the Minister for Crime Prevention at the Home Office. The Lib Dem MP previously held a position at DFID, where she announced a £35 million programme to help end FGM within a generation.

There are a small number of spaces still available for the conference, which can be booked by contacting the Liberal Democrat MP.

Lynne Featherstone MP commented:

“In a truly fair and equal society – no girl would be at risk of undergoing FGM. That’s why I will continue to raise awareness and campaign for better support and protection for girls until FGM is no longer practised at all.

“This conference will bring together different professionals, campaigners and survivors from across North London, and will start conversations about how working together can benefit local girls who may be at risk.

“I’m really looking forward to the event. There are still a few spaces left for the conference – please do get in touch if you’re interested in attending.”

Lynne Featherstone MP visits Henrietta Barnett School

Lynne Featherstone MP with students from Henrietta Barnet SchoolLynne Featherstone MP last week visited Henrietta Barnett School in Hampstead, to speak to the current affairs society.

The Liberal Democrat MP spoke about her ministerial work over the last four years – including tackling FGM and securing equal marriage law.

The local MP also spoke about her work in and around her constituency, and her new campaign to encourage unity and community cohesion in the face of extremism.

The students then asked a number of questions – including many about women’s rights and life as an MP.

Lynne Featherstone MP commented:

“It was great to speak to the students, particularly about the consequences of the recent terror attacks in Paris and elsewhere. We spoke about the worrying and divisive use of language in this country following the attacks, and how unity – rather than division – really is the best way to respond to extremism.

“Many of them rightly raised questions about womens’ rights, and increasing female representation in parliament. While the situation for women has improved – and campaigns to end FGM and forced marriage have really taken off – there is still so much work to be done in this area.

“I really enjoyed the open discussion – the students were so bright and really understood the issues of the day – I wish them all the best for the future!”

Lynne Featherstone MP announces FGM conference for North London professionals

Local MP Lynne Featherstone will host a conference in February, to raise awareness of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), and to discuss how professionals in North London can work together to protect and support vulnerable women and girls.

Professionals from the health, education, safeguarding and social work sectors, along with police and legal representatives, are among those invited to take part. They will be joined by survivors, community activists and local non-governmental organisations.

The conference will be hosted at a school in Hornsey and Wood Green – but is open to professionals and community activists from across North London.

In her role as Minister for International Development, the Liberal Democrat MP launched a £35 million programme to end the unacceptable practice of FGM across the world – within a generation.

Now, as Home Office minister for Crime Prevention, Lynne Featherstone is working to raise awareness, and protect and support girls at risk here in the UK.

Lynne Featherstone MP commented:

“Over 20,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk of FGM in the UK each year, and 66,000 women in the UK are living with the consequences of FGM.

“That’s why I’ve made tackling and preventing FGM one of my priorities – in Haringey, at the Department of International Development, and now at the Home Office.

“This conference will bring together professionals from across North London. There will be sessions for people in similar professions, followed by mixed sessions – to discuss how people in different sectors can work together to protect and support vulnerable women and girls.

“Any North London professionals who have not yet received an invite, but would like to attend – please do get in touch.”

Tackling Violence against Women and Girls – Men and Boys must play a part

We spend a lot of time blaming men (not without reason) for violence against women and girls – but they can be agents of change.

The coalition government is determined to tackle violence against women and girls in all its forms. These abhorrent crimes are not a women’s issue – they are everyone’s issue. And men can be central to bringing about cultural change.

In December last year, we re-launched the This is Abuse campaign which aims to prevent teenagers from becoming victims and perpetrators of abuse, encourage them to consider their views of abuse and the meaning of consent within relationships and signpost them to help and advice.

A significant focus of the campaign is targeted at boys and young men to help them identify and challenge abusive behaviour.

Just Google ‘this is abuse’ and you will see the campaigns from the Home Office. They are really potent. A while back I went into Channing School to talk to the sixth form and I asked who in the class had seen the This is Abuse campaign – and nearly the whole class had. It really reaches out to young people negotiating the difficult territory of relationships and what is ok and what is not.

The White Ribbon Campaign (WRC) – which I wrote about yesterday – appeared in 1991 and has become one of the largest men’s anti-violence programs in the world. It has now spread to over 57 countries around the world.


Lynne Featherstone MP hosts further local FGM Roundtable

Lynne Featherstone MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for International Development, speaking at the United Nations Commission on the Status of WomenLynne Featherstone MP last week hosted a second local roundtable to discuss tackling FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) in Haringey, and to plan a conference to raise awareness of the unacceptable practice across North London.

FGM is prevalent in countries like Somalia and Egypt, but also affects girls in the UK.  Most commonly, young girls are sent abroad to be ‘cut.’  It has been estimated that over 20,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk of FGM in the UK each year, and that 66,000 women in the UK are living with the consequences of FGM.

Representatives from local health services, schools, police, community organisations and safeguarding teams attended the roundtable, and agreed that a more integrated approach to tackling and preventing FGM was desirable.

The Liberal Democrat MP and other participants will hold a conference in Haringey early next year, which will bring professionals and community groups together to discuss how to raise awareness of FGM, and prevent it happening by working together.

Lynne Featherstone MP said:

“FGM is not just a problem for other countries. Girls in Haringey and in London are at risk of this unacceptable practice, and as the local MP, I want to make sure the organisations in Haringey are doing all we can to help protect them.

“That’s why I am arranging a conference on tackling FGM in North London – in partnership with local schools, health services, safeguarding teams, police, community groups, FGM survivors and more.

“As International Development minister, I launched a £35 million international programme to help end FGM within a generation. With help from survivors, the media and others, tackling and preventing FGM is now at the top of the agenda.

“I have now been promoted to Minister of State in the Home Office. Here, I look forward to working more on the prevention of FGM, and tackling other forms of violence against women, in our country.”

Breaking the silence: violence against women in Somalia and beyond

Here’s a blog from my recent visit to Somalia. I went in my capacity as Minister for International Development, and UK Ministerial Champion for tackling violence against women and girls abroad. 

When you think of Somalia, you probably think of Black Hawk Down, Al Shabaab terrorism and piracy. But if you’re born a girl in Somalia, you face so many other risks, both severe and everyday.

Decades of war and humanitarian crises have given Somalia a reputation as one of the worst places to be woman or a child in the world. Girls and women suffer disproportionately from violence and instability. One in 16 women will die during childbirth, and 1 in 10 will die during her reproductive years. Whilst data is scarce, it is thought that 98% of Somali women have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM).

Last week I became the first DFID minister to spend a night in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. I was there in my capacity as the UK’s ministerial champion for tackling violence against women and girls overseas, as part of a fact-finding and awareness-raising tour to break the silence on an issue that can no longer be taboo. So far my tour has taken me to the United Arab Emirates to tackle the issue of gender-based violence in refugee camps, and I am now in Bangladesh, where two-thirds of girls are married before their eighteenth birthday. All countries suffer from violence against women and girls. We’re all located on a spectrum of violence, and we must help and learn from each other to end it.

Lynne Featherstone with the Somali minister of Women and Human Rights. Picture: DFID Somalia
Lynne Featherstone with the Somali minister of Women and Human Rights

Back to Somalia. There is a nascent movement in Somalia to end FGM, and the Federal Government of Somalia as well as the governments of Somaliland and Puntland, committed to eliminate the practice at the Girl Summit the coalition government hosted in London in July. But new research suggests that while there is widespread support in Somalia for ending the most extreme and medically egregious form of FGM, known as ‘pharaonic’ ‘type III’ or infibulation, the majority of Somalis still supports ‘sunna’, which can involve anything from a small nick to the full removal of the clitoris, removal of flesh, or stitching. People are also now going to medical facilities to undergo FGM, with the help of health professionals, in the belief it is more hygienic. So we’ve got a long way to go.

Lynne Featherstone with the Somali minister of Women and Human Rights and the Gender Based Violence Working Group. Picture: DFID Somalia
Lynne Featherstone with the Somali minister of Women and Human Rights 

But my visit confirmed that there is reason for hope. I met ministers, religious leaders, NGOs, men, women and girls who were all committed to ending FGM. Every one of them had the same message: ‘sunna’ is not OK, and they will not have won until they have eliminated all forms of FGM.

I talked to girls from an amazing girls’ club in Somaliland. Formed to provide vocational training and address gender-based violence issues in their community, its members were eloquent and open. They had succeeded in breaking the taboo of talking about FGM – even with the men in their families and communities.

And I heard about Somalia’s efforts to tackle gender-based violence in conflict, including the development of a sexual offences bill.

But one particular issue seems hardest to tackle, and that is domestic violence. It affects so many women across the world: 2 women a week are killed by their partners or ex-partners in the UK, and 1 in 4 women in the UK suffers domestic violence at some point in her life. In Somalia, there are no data on domestic violence, but in a place where the prevalence of FGM is so high, we can assume that domestic violence is happening in everyday life.

Lynne Featherstone visits the Girls' Club which works to increase awareness of the health impacts of female genital mutilation. Picture: Health Poverty Action
Lynne Featherstone visits the Girls’ Club which works to increase awareness of the health impacts of female genital mutilation. Picture: Health Poverty Action

I asked a group of women at a maternal health clinic whether they had suffered domestic violence. Silence. But when I asked whether they knew any women who had been beaten by their husbands, every one of them put up their hand.

The girls’ club told me that the right to beat one’s wife was a widely accepted social norm. But when I asked whether they felt it was a good social norm, they were vehement in their answer: absolutely not.

It’s through young leaders such as these girls that we can really change the future. If these girls refuse to cut their daughters, the cycle ends. If these girls speak out against domestic violence, it can end too.

Through them, we can break the silence, and stop violence before it starts.

A Tribute to Efua Dorkenoo

Here’s a statement from Jane Ellison MP and me, following the sad passing of Efua Dorkenoo. Also available on Huffington Post.

We learned with very great sadness of the passing of Efua Dorkenoo OBE on Saturday 14 October.

We had the honour of working closely with Efua for some years, and she was deservingly known as ‘Mama Efua’, the mother of the movement against FGM. Efua worked tirelessly for many decades, most recently as Programme Director for the International Social Change campaign, The Girl Generation’.

But Efua’s pioneering work began in the early 1980s and since then, she dedicated her career to the cause, and was a powerful voice for the rights of women and girls, ensuring that FGM survivors and girls who need protection remained at the heart of her life’s work to eradicate FGM.

Her vision and leadership has brought us all to the position today where FGM is recognised as a grave violation of human rights, as well as a health issue with devastating consequences.

Thankfully she lived to see her dream of an African-led global campaign realised.

Efua enjoyed a long and varied career, including working as an adviser to the World Health Organisation. In 1983, her services to women and girls were recognised when she received an OBE (Order of the British Empire). She of course also authored the groundbreaking publication ‘Cutting the Rose: Female Genital Mutilation’ (1996).

Efua was a truly inspirational woman, and it was a great honour to work with her.

We will continue to remember her, in our work to achieve her vision to end FGM in a generation.

Surely there can be no greater tribute to her than this – that we work tirelessly to protect future generations of the girls she cared so deeply about.

Our thoughts are with her husband Freddie and her family at this very difficult time.