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.

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.


Julien Blanc is a pimple on the ugly face of Violence Against Women

I am glad that the Home Secretary banned Julien Blanc from coming to our shores.

I had made my view (as Ministerial Champion for tackling violence against women) quite clear – he should be banned. His seduction teachings as a ‘pick-up’ coach – including the use of the hashtag ‘chokinggirlsaroundtheworld’ with copious pictures of him with his hands on girls throats – crossed the line. This wasn’t about free speech. This was incitement to violence – against our laws – that is why the Home Secretary banned him.

But Julien Blanc is just a pimple on the ugly face of Violence against Women and Girls.

Tomorrow is the UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women – which kicks of the 16 days of activism. Events are held right around the world – to raise awareness of the dreadful and all-pervasive violence that women and girls endure. Right across the world there is a living and horrifying living tableau of what women and girls suffer.

In the UK we have two women a week killed by their husband or ex partner. One in four women experiences domestic violence in her lifetime. As you go across the world – and as the UK Government’s Ministerial Champion for Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Overseas I have seen first hand – how that violence worsens. Whether it is rape as a weapon of war, breast ironing, acid attacks, defilement, rape, sexual harassment or just brute violence – where women have no rights, no voice and no power – they are brutalised. And as DFID Minister for two years – giving women voice, choice and control over their own lives was my mission.

Now at the Home Office – it still is my mission. And tomorrow I am focusing this world day on ‘Men as Agents of Change’. I am going to King’s College with the White Ribbon Campaign for an event focusing on men.

The White Ribbon Campaign is the UK branch of a male led, global campaign to make sure men take more responsibility for reducing the level of violence against women. They ask men to make a personal pledge to take a stand against violence and pledge never to commute, condone or remain silent about men’s violence against women. Organisations such as councils, police forces and towns are able to apply for White Ribbon Status.

The event has been arranged with the help of the National Union of Students who recently published a survey called Lad Culture and Sexism in September 2014 which found that one in four students have suffered unwelcome sexual advances, defined as inappropriate touching and groping in universities.

Misogyny, sexual harassment, sexual abuse, domestic violence, stalking, grooming,  trolling, everydaysexism –  this is not OK. Everyone needs to stand up against this tide of violence against women.

We have one world – and we need to share it equally, peacefully and with respect.




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.”

Minister of State for Crime Prevention

Today, I was appointed as Minister of State for Crime Prevention at the Home Office. You can read more about the changes here.

I am of course sad to leave the Department of International Development – but I also look forward to returning to the Home Office, with a portfolio that covers tackling violence against women and girls and preventing FGM here in the UK.

In my previous role as a junior minister at the Home Office, I led efforts to introduce equal marriage, end the fingerprinting of children and ban wheel clamping on private land.

I have already emailed my constituents to let them know about the change. I’ll continue to update them on the work I’m doing in Government in this new role.

Finally – thank you so much for all the positive comments I’ve received on twitter, facebook and email – very heart-warming!

Sexual abuse of children in our country

Two women came to my surgery to ask if I would support the call for an Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse – and of course an inquiry is now on the way.

But what I said to them was whilst I was happy to have an inquiry – more than that – I wanted the police to follow-up on allegations and where they could get enough evidence – prosecution, conviction and prison should follow. What sort of country are we where our children can be defiled – and worse?

They also asked me if I would put this on the record – so hence this blog.

With the terrible world events at the moment – the Middle East and of course the downing of the plane over separatist held territory in Ukraine – the issue off child sexual abuse has been pushed off of the news agenda – for the moment.

However, it will undoubtedly come back as well it should. Along with most people – the level of pedophilia in this country then and probably now is astounding and disgusting. And whilst Norman Tebbit said that at the time this was simply what happened – such things were not talked about and power protected those involved – for me that is no excuse whatsoever. If anything those in power have even more of a duty to behave properly – whether then or now.

Saville and Harris got away with it for years – and I am glad that finally justice was served – and only sorry that Saville escaped the punishment and humiliation that he deserved.

As for the rumours and whispers about the Dicken’s dossier – I trust the police are investigating without fear or favour. I am told that you can find the details of the dossier on the net. If that is so – I don’t know whether the content is true or not – but the police must track  down and investigate those involved.

The arrest of over 600 suspects by the police who have downloaded illegal child images gives us a glance at the scale of what is going on.

It is truly shocking.

Data Retention and Investigation Powers Bill

There is a great deal in the news this morning about the proposed Data Retention Bill. Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg and my colleague Julian Huppert MP have been out in the press explaining what is happening and why.

A number of residents have understandably already contacted me asking for further information. Here is an update…

A recent European Court of Justice judgement has changed the obligations of companies to keep information on communications (in short – the Court threw out the Data Retention directive, meaning companies are no longer obliged to retain certain types of data).

If companies were to start deleting this data, our police security services may no longer be able to retrieve information from the communications and data of terrorists or other dangerous individuals.

All three main parties (Lib Dem, Conservative, Labour) have come together to agree an urgent Bill, that will oblige companies to continue to retain the data, and keep the powers that the security services and police already have.

I remain, as do my Lib Dem colleagues, against any expansion of surveillance powers. Some people want to use this situation to bring back the appalling Communications Data Bill – the Tory plans dubbed the Snoopers’ Charter – but I can guarantee that this will not happen. The Lib Dems blocked that already last year, and we would do so again.

As Julian Huppert has recently said – “We must keep our country and citizens safe, but not by eroding our civil liberties…We need legislation to allow communications data to be available, but not to store more than is already allowed”.

The Data Retention Bill will be a stop-gap, and built into it is an end date of 2016. There are also a number of other safeguards, including a new Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, restrictions on the number of government bodies that can access the data, and the introduction of annual transparency reports. These are all extras negotiated and secured by the Lib Dems in Government.

The Lib Dems are also campaigning to bring legislation on digital issues into the 21st century through schemes like our Digital Bill of Rights motion.

The current situation is not perfect – frankly at present there is no perfect solution. But, to repeat, this Bill will not expand data retention powers, and this is thanks to Nick Clegg and Lib Dem Home Office minister Norman Baker – who negotiated doggedly for this and for the extra safeguards mentioned.

The Lib Dems in government have a proud record on civil liberties – scrapping ID cards, ending 28 day detention, and curtailing stop and search. If we were in power on our own we would have done more, but we will keep pushing to ensure the UK is the world leader on civil liberties, whilst also keeping the country as safe as possible from threats.