This week, unfortunately, I have been thinking about female genital mutilation (FGM).
I know. You would hope that in this day and age there would be no need for something like this to cross my mind. Alas.
For those of you unfamiliar with FGM, it is the practice of removing the outer sexual organs from young girls, i,e. labia and clitoris, in part or completely, for non-medical reasons. It can cause severe bleeding, infections, infertility and even death. It is mostly carried out on girls under the age of 15.
In the main, there are three different types, classified by severity. In the most extreme case, only a small hole is left to allow the girl in question to pass urine and menstrual blood. When she gets married and her husband wants sex, the wound is simply opened, either during the act or through surgery.
Sounds barbaric, right? That’s because it is. I cannot imagine the pain, both of having it done initially and then every time you have sex, not to mention when you get pregnant and you have to force a baby out. I understand that childbirth is painful enough without having the passage made even smaller than it would originally have been. Needless to say this is also very dangerous, both to mother and child. It occurs most commonly in Africa, with prevalence ranging from 85% in high risk countries to 30% in lower risk areas. It is estimated that 125 million females alive today have undergone this procedure, and this is just in the 29 countries where FGM is concentrated.
So why should you care? Well, in England and Wales – not countries when FGM is concentrated – there are an estimated 66,000 victims of FGM. A further 24,000 girls under fifteen are believed to be at risk. It is horrifying to think that today, in England, there are people planning to damage the sexual organs of young girls beyond repair for no other reason that they don’t want them to enjoy sex.
Female sexuality is something that has been a problem for some people, mainly men, since the ancient Greeks. Women who enjoyed sex were depicted as wild, unstable, wicked in some way, and despite the changes that western culture has undergone in the last hundred years, there is still a lingering social discomfort around women and sex. This is visible everywhere, from the slags vs studs issue, to the campaign in America to roll back abortion legislation and prioritise rights of the foetus over rights of the mother, to the brutal rapes that happen worldwide every day.
Whenever women having sex features in western media – as though it is still something worth reporting on – it is in terms designed to titillate men that bear absolutely no resemblance to women in reality. From the tits out page 3 girls with their token comment on the news – look, she thinks too! – to the endless revelations of ‘I’m straight, but I love girls too’ from women that want some publicity (see Luisa Zissman, apparently intelligent business lady), female sexuality is diverted away from what women want and towards what men want. When attempts are made to include female views in this conversation, such as with the No More Page 3 campaign, the thousands of voices saying ‘no thanks’ are drowned by voices such as David Cameron, a man elected to represent us all, saying, ‘oh, just look away dear’. One wonders if that would be his response if page 3 was instead devoted to a black person of the day.
Like David Cameron, weasel-in-chief Michael Gove prefers to wait for circumstances to force him to take an interest in women’s issues rather than taking any sort of initiative. And so we come to the reason why I have been thinking about FGM. A 17 year old girl, Fahma Mohamed, has started a petition to ask Michael Gove to make FGM an educational issue. The summer holidays is known as the ‘cutting season’, and she is requesting that teachers and parents are made aware of this issue to try and convince families that this is not in the best interest of their daughters. This is something that Scotland is already doing, by the way
Apparently Ofsted already said they would ask for this to happen, but nothing has occurred. You would think that as this is a worldwide issue, discussed by the UN and the World Health Organisation, Michael Gove – like David Cameron, elected to serve the best interests of the people living in Britain – would already be all over it. You would think that he wouldn’t need a child too young to vote to tell him that something needs to be done. Alas, as Michael Gove has shown time and time again, he will never fail to disappoint us.
He has now generously agreed to meet Fahma and discuss this issue with her. However, this is no guarantee that action will be taken. At time of writing, there are just under 190,000 signatories on Fahma’s petition. Over 63 million of us live in the UK. Surely more of us are bothered about this? It’s not a female issue, and it’s not even a feminist issue. It is a human issue. It’s child abuse. Please be a good human and lend the weight of your voice. Sign today.
For another voice of reason regarding vaginas, why not read the wonderful Hannah Marsh’s (slightly more light-hearted) Christmas offering?