Both the U.S. and the UK are getting serious about female genital mutilation. Two people were arrested in Britain on Saturday, charged with suspected female genital mutilation (FGM). A 72 year old Ugandan man traveling with an 11 year old girl arrived at Heathrow airport from Kampala, Uganda Friday morning. He was arrested along with a 40 year old woman in London, and the young girl, a UK national, was placed into the protection of social services. Whether the girl had definitely been subjected to FGM has not been released by authorities.
The arrests come only days after the United Kingdom pledged $2.4 million to prevention programs and prosecution of FGM during a one day summit held in London. At the “Girl Summit” on Tuesday, 21 nations signed a charter to eradicate both FGM and CFM, child and forced marriage. The UK passed the Female Genital Mutilation Act in 2003 which makes it illegal to perform the procedure in Britain or to take girls out of the country and force them to undergo FGM. It is common for parents or society members to takes girls back to their countries of origin in order to subject them to mutilation. It seems that the UK is standing behind its promise to help end this horrendous ritual.
Reports estimate that 10,000 girls under the age of 15 who have migrated to England and Wales have undergone FGM. Approximately 103,000 women aged 15-49 now living in Britain have been subjected to the practice. Worldwide numbers are closer to 130,000. The practice is most common in the eastern, north-eastern and western regions of Africa, parts of the Middle East and parts of Asia, and among migrants from these areas of the world. There is limited data regarding the number of girls and women having undergone FGM living in the U.S. because the practice is shrouded in secrecy. In 2000 the African Women’s Health Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital estimated that as many as 277,887 women and girls were at risk of being subjected to FGM in the United States.
The U.S. did not pass a law making it illegal to perform FGM until 1996. In that year 17 year old Fauziya Kassindja won political asylum after fleeing from FGM and a forced marriage in Togo. Her case helped to put a spotlight on the plight of women subjected to FGM. It was not until January 2013, after nearly three years of introducing legislation, that an addendum to the act was passed making it unlawful to subject girls to FGM while on vacations or holidays overseas. Obama issued one of his few executive orders to enforce the U.S. strategy to prevent and respond to violence against women and girls globally. The executive order states that not only does FGM violate human rights, but it undermines “the public health, economic stability and security of nations.” The U.S. is joining other western nations in getting serious about ending female genital mutilation.
There are four basic types of FGM ranging from any harmful procedure done to the female genitalia through clitoridectomy and excision to full infibulation. All of the procedures are born out of cultural practices to ensure virginity of young girls and supposedly reduce their sexual desire in order to prevent “wantonness.” All the procedures are painful and humiliating and carry great risk to general health and especially sexual and reproductive health. The practices are rooted in patriarchy and superstition and have absolutely no benefit to women or family planning.
In no way is FGM comparable to male circumcision. Although a highly debatable procedure, male circumcision is not meant to subjugate men or mutilate their sexual organs beyond use. The health risks of circumcision are small compared to FGM. Female genital mutilation is a severe and painful form of discrimination against women and girls. Now western nations are getting serious about female genital mutilation.
The Girl Summit was hosted by UK Prime Minister David Cameron and held in London on July 22 with the aim of mobilizing and coordinating international efforts to end FGM and CFM. Prime Minister Cameron stated:
All girls have the right to live free from violence and coercion, without being forced into marriage or the lifelong physical and psychological effects of female genital mutilation. Abhorrent practices like these, no matter how deeply rooted in societies, violate the rights of girls and women across the world, including here in the UK.
The summit was attended by representatives from 50 countries, United Nations agencies, and charities on the frontlines of combatting FGM. Female genital mutilation and child forced marriage have long lasting health and economic ramifications. Women who live in constant pain and have complications during reproduction cannot fulfill their potential. Women who marry as children and teens and have children instead of an education cannot have an optimum quality of life. FGM and CFM are practices that perpetuate women’s inferior status in patriarchal societies; but they not only violate the rights of women, they keep societies and nations in a state of backwardness and poverty.
The arrests in England prove that western nation are getting serious about female genital mutilation. At the summit, the UK and other nations pledged money and cooperation to end the horrific practice. Delegates believe a strong, concerted push against FGM will eradicate this abuse of girls across the world.
Opinion By: Rebecca Savastio