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Awareness Campaign on FGM

     My name is Wendy Bell,  SI Tenby and District  Co-ordinator for the “Awareness Campaign” on Female Genital Mutilation and Circumcision

                                             Jenny Deverson, Wendy Bell and Jan Griffiths

                                   at the International Women In Wales Day

                                    (National Botanic Gardens)

FFGM is a very contentious and emotive subject that conjures up such abhorrence, that many people prefer to llleave it well a  alone. However, about  12 years ago, a small item in a SISTER magazine referring to FGM  innspired some  members of the Club’s Programme Action Committee to look into the subject.     

IIn 2003, following nearly eighteen months of research, and from the knowledge gained, the desire came to bbecome involved as the practice had become more evident in the UK. The practice is but one piece in the mosaic oof violence against women and girls, and it reinforces the theme in the lives of many that –“You are to obey the wwills of others”. Held down forcibly,  and being cut in their most intimate body parts, they learn the lesson – “others own and control you”.  It is not as many believe a religious requirement – Mohammed did not circumcise his ddaughters – it is purely cultural in male dominated societies

AA little girl in the film “The Day I Will Never Forget” brought the horror of the practice home to us. To quote FLouiza : “It was a Sunday night when my mother called me and said “Daughter tomorrow is your D Day” I was sshocked, but was not expected to say anything. In the morning, I was dragged and pinned down to the floor. I was ccrying “Mum, where are you?” The only reply was, ‘Quiet girl, quiet!’  I will never forget the pain as long as I lilive. That night I dreamt that three old women were holding me down and cutting me again and again. I screamed.  My loving parent, is this really what I deserve?  I ask you all, is this what I really deserve?”  Fouiza told her mmother she would forgive her, if she promised not to circumcise her sister. Her mother was reluctant, but her ssister was not circumcised.

TTwo items in a Channel 5 News report from Sierra Leone added to our resolve. Firstly, there was an account of a a young father who was so angry that his eighteen month old daughter had been taken by her grandmother to be ccircumcised without his knowledge. Secondly, a young woman told how she believed that she was going to a bbirthday party, and then went through the horror of being circumcised herself, and hearing the screams of her ffriends.

 Initially it was agreed that we write to the women members of the UK Government and the Welsh Assembly ddrawing their attention to the subject. In Nov 2003 letters were sent but a comment made by a male MP in an aamended reading of the 2003 FGM Bill “ Please, spare me the gruesome details” prompted letters to be sent to tthe male members, and also  all the members of the Scottish Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly, and the BBritish MEPs. Added to this letters were sent to the Heads of Faiths, Chief Police Officers in Wales, the Hheadquarters of Women’s & Men’s Organisations. An exhibit was produced accompanied by a DVD with details of oour work, news items and extracts from films on the subject. This was taken to Soroptimist Clubs, and set up at mmany local events. In 2006, a joint presentation was given with the editor of the SISTER magazine (then FFederation President Pat Black) at Newcastle, and in 2007, we were awarded the Federation “Human Rights and Sstatus of Women “Award.”  We have written many articles about our work and one written for the SI ppublication “Giving Girls a Chance” was presented in New York to the UN Commission for the Status of Women.  A petition was launched, but to date we have only 2500 signatures, an amount we feel is not enough. We continue tto lobby, and are on the mailing list of relevant organisations, and are delighted that whereas in 2003 we felt we wwere “a lone voice in the wilderness” now there are hundreds out there. “Female Genital Mutilation” entered into Ggoogle now results in 10 pages or more.

OOne of our main concerns has been the complete lack of prosecutions in the UK, despite the knowledge of the ppractice taking place. We are delighted to learn that recently for the first time in British legal history, charges hhave been brought against perpetrators of FGM – 4 new cases and 4 previous, and a further 15 cases have been rreported by the NSPCC. The latter have so far received 41 calls on their new helpline.  Part of the Soroptimist ccode is “to enhance the well-being and status of women”. Waris Dirie, UN ambassador for FGM, who herself was ccircumcised, has stated:

·         FGM has nothing to do with tradition, culture or religion. It is the most cynical form of child abuse. All countries are obliged to take serious and consequent action against those that practice this crime.

·         If Genital mutilation was a problem affecting men, the matter would long be settled.

WWe are a small club in a rural area unaffected by FGM, but we know that our campaign has made people talk aabout, and not turn away from, this issue. We ask you to add your voices to those of the hundreds of women wworldwide in condemning this practice and by making your concerns known to all those in authority, and ssupporting the many organisations on line asking for signatures to that effect, for example, Amnesty IInternational, UNIFEM, FORWARD, FIGO and NSPCC , to name but a few.

WWe will continue to work against this horrific practice. Please join us.