FGM – Girl Summit and Youth for Change

Well – it’s been quite a stunning week.

Last Saturday we (Department of International Development) held a Youth for Change event on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and Child Early and Forced marriage (CEFM). Young people came and took over DFID for the day.

And then on Tuesday – we had the Girl Summit 2014 – which brought leaders, activists and campaigners from all over the world to unite in the fight against FGM and CEFM.

At the Youth for Change event – which I hope you read about in the papers – there was an amazing program ranging from mentoring sessions for young people to TedX talks! At the end of the day – the Youth Advisory Panel (who had been instrumental in designing the day) did a wonderful performance demonstrating how life is now for many girls across the world – and how it can change!

Mentoring young people at Youth for Change

And you will notice in the photos – that there are quite a few boys involved. This is all of our business and men and boys have a role and responsibility. And it was fantastic at the end of the day when Nick Clegg and I sat and talked with the Youth Panel to hear boys talking about these issues openly – no embarassment and no hesitation. The world really can change – and it is young people who are the agents of change.

TedX - empowering girls voices

The Girl Summit 2014 itself – saw the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Secretaries of State for Home Office and DFID all take to the plenary stage to demonstrate the commitment of the UK government to eradicating FGM and CEFM within a generation – and I hope that message rang out loud and clear across the country – and indeed the whole world.

I am particularly proud of the announcement Nick Clegg championed and made on the day – that all frontline professionals working in the public sector will have compulsory training on FGM. This has been such a missing link on tackling FGM in our country. Tippy toeing around cultural eggshells inhibited addressing this issue for far too long – and even now – it is a sensitive issue – and frontline workers (teachers, health workers, police and social workers) need to feel confident so that they can intervene to detect a child at risk at the earliest stage – and hopefully prevent FGM from taking place. This now will happen.

Freida Pinto and the gang!

There were speeches and dancing. There were panels and questions. There were round tables and spotlight sessions. But of all who took part – my special praise goes to those brave girls and women campaigners – who have been cut and who have spoken out to break the silence so that girls in the future will not go through what they went through.

It is these girls’ and women’s life stories and life efforts that were the catalyst for FGM and CEFM now being top of the political agenda.

To all the girls and women – who educated me and made me take this on as a mission – I thank and salute you.

 

Violence against women and girls – at home and abroad

Here’s my latest Ham and High column on my work at home and abroad to protect women and girls from violence. Also available here.

Last week, I represented the UK at the UN Commission on the Status of Women. I have always been committed to tackling violence against women and girls – and since taking on a ministerial role in the Department for International Development, I have been able to make it a UK government priority.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have led to remarkable achievements in alleviating poverty over the last 15 years. But for all their good, the MDGs omitted a crucial element – a target for ending gender-based violence.

I’m proud that the coalition government is committed to the principle that every woman and girl has the right to live free from violence or the threat of violence. And that every woman and girl should be empowered to take control over her own life.

So in the post-2015 international development framework discussions at the UN Commission, we were focused on pushing for a stand-alone goal to empower girls and women and achieve gender equality. Within this, we are pushing for a target on eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls.

Over the last year, I have spearheaded a new multi-million pound programme to tackle one of the most extreme manifestations of gender-based violence – female genital mutilation (FGM). And because of this solid foundation of work and momentum, this July the prime minister will host a major summit to tackle FGM as well as early and forced marriage – both domestically and internationally.

Our aim is to get political and popular support to end early and forced marriage and FGM within a generation. An ambitious goal, but women’s rights campaigners have always been ambitious! And I believe this goal is achievable – but only if we work together and ramp up our efforts to support this African-led movement.

There is work to do in the UK, too. Young girls who live in the UK are sent abroad to be “cut”. It has been estimated more than 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.

As the local MP in Haringey, I have called a roundtable – with officials from the local council, health services and police – in order to discuss an integrated strategy to protect girls in our borough.

Ending gender-based violence has been and will continue to be a long-fought struggle. This includes addressing the entrenched social norms and gender inequalities that drive violence against women and girls.

It will take time, and we’ve got a long road ahead. But I believe if we all, men and women, work hard enough together we really can create a world where women and girls no longer live in fear of violence.

FGM

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 fgmhelp@nspcc.org.uk.

Calling a roundtable to fight FGM in Haringey

Lynne Featherstone MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for International Development, speaking at the United Nations Commission on the Status of WomenLynne Featherstone MP has called a roundtable of key figures in Haringey, to discuss fighting and preventing Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the borough.

Representatives from Haringey Council, Police, and health services have been called on by the local MP to discuss an integrated strategy to protect local girls from FGM.

The practice 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.

It is illegal to arrange for a child to be taken abroad for FGM. If caught, offenders face a prison sentence of up to 14 years.

The Liberal Democrat MP is also a minister in the Department for International Development, and the ministerial champion for tackling violence against women and girls overseas. Ending FGM within a generation is one of her top priorities.

Lynne Featherstone MP commented

“Over the last few months I have met with Haringey Council, the Borough Commander and local health representatives. All have shown a great willingness to fight FGM in Haringey.  Now, I want to bring everyone together to discuss a truly integrated strategy. That’s why I have called this roundtable meeting.

“Late April to July is usually the time when girls are sent abroad to be cut – so there really is no time to lose. FGM is a crime and it is child abuse – and everyone needs to work together to tackle the problem.

“As minister for International Development, I have made ending this awful practice within a generation one of my top priorities. We will not see an end to FGM in the UK unless the practice is eliminated worldwide – but we need to tackle it on the ground here, too.”

 

Ending violence against women and girls – the missing target in the MDGs

Here’s my final blog from New York, where I represented the UK at the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Also available here.

As I’m sure you know by now, I am passionately committed to tackling violence against women and girls wherever it occurs, and this issue was the theme of my last speaking event at CSW before heading back home.

The Millennium Development Goals have led to remarkable achievements in poverty alleviation over the last 15 years. But for all their good, the MDGs omitted a crucial element – a target for ending gender-based violence.

I’m proud that the Coalition Government is absolutely committed to the principle that every woman and girl has the right to live free from violence or the threat of violence. And that every women and girl should be empowered to take control over her own life.

So in the post-2015 international development framework discussions, we are focused on pushing for a stand-alone goal to empower girls and women and achieve gender equality, and mainstream gender across the whole framework. Within this, we are pushing for a target on eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls.

Over the last year, I have spearheaded a new multi-million pound programme to tackle one of the most extreme manifestations of gender-based violence – Female Genital Mutilation. And because of this solid foundation of work and momentum, this July the Prime Minister will host a major summit to tackle FGM as well as early and forced marriage – both domestically and internationally. Our aim is to galvanise political and popular support to end early and forced marriage and FGM within a generation. An ambitious goal, but women’s rights campaigners have always been ambitious! And I believe this goal is achievable – but only if we work together and ramp up our efforts to support this African-led movement.

Ending gender-based violence has been and will continue to be a long-fought struggle. And research shows we need to use a whole range of approaches and work across multiple sectors.  This includes addressing the entrenched social norms and gender inequalities that drive violence against women and girls.

There is a great need for more robust evaluations of initiatives that engage men and boys as partners and that create new social norms. Men and boys are crucial – we’ll get nowhere if women continue just to talk amongst ourselves.

So we need to invest in evidence to understand the causes of violence against women and girls, so that it can be effectively prevented.

That is why I was delighted to announce today that DFID is investing £25m in a new research and innovation programme called What Works to Prevent Violence led by the South African Medical Research Council. This flagship programme will support national governments and the international community to understand better what works in preventing violence against women and girls. It will also fund innovation grants for new interventions that have the potential to be taken to scale.

This research will take time. And we’ve got a long road ahead. But I believe if we all, men and women, work hard enough together we really can create a world where women and girls no longer live in fear of violence.

 

FGM event at the UN Commission on the Status of Women

If I needed any reminder of the degree to which female genital mutilation (FGM) has shot up the international agenda in the last couple of years, the scrum to attend this morning’s FGM event at the UN Commission on the Status of Women did the job. I was speaking alongside the First Lady of Burkina Faso, who I met on my recent visit there, ministers from Italy and Somalia, the head of UNESCO, NGOs and, most importantly, young people from across the world to discuss how to empower youths to end FGM. The energy in the room was palpable, and the panel represented some of the strongest commitment in the world to ending FGM.

FGM is one of the most extreme manifestations of discrimination against women and girls. It is violence against women and girls. I am very sure if we were talking cutting off men’s penises, this issue would be a priority – and it would have ended centuries ago! But FGM has carried on for thousands of years, and still goes on today.

That is why, as a DFID minister, I began my campaign to end FGM – a mission that fits well with my role as ministerial champion for tackling violence against women overseas. I have learnt from some of the most inspirational women – campaigners, activists, leaders – many of whom were in the room today. Bold, ambitious women who believed that change could happen. And I was told by African women and leaders that they wanted support. Now, I have heard some amazing young people add their voices to that call – including a young brother and sister duo who both spoke passionately about ridding the world of this abuse.

The young people who spoke today told us that they have been desperately trying to get leaders to listen to their calls to tackle FGM for years – and that finally they are in the room, and telling us not to ignore them any longer. They have felt the fear as they or their friends or sisters have been carried away to be cut. They know the feelings of sadness and shame and fury that their bodies no longer belong to them. They asked for our support to help them end this violence.

I will rise to that challenge and support these brilliant young people, who are the agents of change. I hope you will join me to end FGM in a generation.

 

An African-led movement for change

Here’s my final blog from last week’s visit to Burkina Faso – also available here.

What do you get when you combine a vibrant First Lady, a country in which most women have undergone female genital mutilation and many are facing health problems and complications in pregnancy, and funding from donor countries to support a country’s desire to achieve change?

I discovered that you get an environment in which it’s OK to talk about really difficult subjects like women’s genitalia and FGM/C-related health problems in school.

You get radio shows that allow women who’ve never felt able to speak up about their bodies to call in and ask how they can get help.

And you get the remarkable Suka Clinic, funded by a foundation set up by the First Lady, Chantal Compaoré. The clinic provides free surgery to repair the damage that FGM/C has done to so many women in Burkina Faso.

During my visit I went to the clinic, and saw hope being restored by the dedicated staff who run it.

After showing us the most harrowing video I’ve ever seen – of a baby girl having her clitoris removed – and photographs of some desperate pregnancy complications suffered by women who were sewn up as young girls, it would have been easy to focus only on the horror suffered by millions of women around the world.

But the clinic provides free reconstructive surgery to dozens of Burkinabé women every week – allowing them to have sex, give birth safely, and avoid a multitude of other health risks. All this costs just 6,000 Central African Francs, or $15, but changes lives beyond measure.

I also visited a school, where I saw a class of 15 and 16 year-olds – both boys and girls – engage in a lively debate about the dangers of FGM/C and design slogans to tackle the practice.

And I joined in the radio show in which a woman who hadn’t even known that her body was different to those of other women called in to seek help for the first time in her life.

At the clinic, I met one of the women who had gone through FGM/C as a little girl, had reconstructive surgery a few years ago, and now had a beautiful child of her own. Would she cut her daughter, I asked? “I don’t think so,” she replied with a wry laugh.

That’s the kind of voice, along with those of leaders like the First Lady of Burkina Faso, that can end FGM/C in a generation.

Join my campaign to end FGM in a generation

fgmNo woman or girl should ever have to suffer the horrific practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM.) But, in countries like Egypt and Somalia, more than 90% of girls and women over the age of 15 have been cut. Truly shocking statistics.

This has been a taboo for too long – FGM is child abuse and we must help bring the practice to an end.

As a minister for International Development, I have announced a £35million UK Government programme towards this aim, and am doing all I can to raise awareness.

The Department for International Development have launched a Thunderclap in support of ending FGM within a generation.

If over 500 people sign up, the thunderclap app will tweet the same message of support from everyone at the same time. This will get #EndFGM trending, bringing the issue to the attention of millions of twitter users.

Please do sign up and help raise awareness. Together, we can end FGM in a generation.