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The 'Cuts' And 'Cutting' - And So Female Genital Mutilation Continues In The UK

18/07/2017 15:14 BST | Updated 18/07/2017 15:15 BST

The 'cuts' and 'cutting'. Both should be bothering us Brits a lot right now.

'Cuts', of course, are austerity.

And 'cutting' is what unsuspecting little girls will experience over the coming summer break, when they are taken to locations - probably in the country of origin/ heritage of their parents, but perhaps somewhere secret on UK soil - to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM).

No money?

The UK is the sixth most prosperous nation in the world, but whilst billions may be available for matters of immediate political convenience, the NHS, education and many other public services are feeling the pinch. Funding for bedrock community provisions is seriously stretched.

These two facts of contemporary life - that 'the cuts' hurt our communities, and that FGM is one of the cruellest, most horrific acts which could be visited upon a child - are inevitably connected.

Austerity causes poverty, and poverty restricts opportunity, which leaves women and girls ever more vulnerable to gender-based harm. Anyone who's undergone FGM is less likely to have the health and educational opportunities to enjoy well-being in maturity.

Tragically, cuts may themselves enable 'cutting'

July is a peak month for small girls to be taken for 'vacation cutting' - a time when, like the other peak times of Christmas and Easter, there will be weeks of school holiday and no questions asked about where children are or what's happening to them.

And it's also when action to stop FGM, by border agencies, the police, teachers and community activists, is on highest alert.

Often community campaigns comprise in reality just a few people, perhaps a single individual, doing what they feel they must to consign FGM to history.

But all around Britain there are voices quietly worrying that funds to support community based on-the-ground campaigns against FGM are drying up. There is no money to pay activists' expenses, let alone a fee for their efforts.

Different roles for different people

The larger EndFGM organisations have structures and technical skills to obtain, manage and ultimately account for financial awards, but they must rely on appointed professional staff, few of whom have direct connection with the communities in which FGM still occurs.

Of course the bigger organisations have a critical role to play. They can analyse and share prevalence data, develop the reference materials and teaching resources medical, educational, legal and other professionals need to take forward their subject-specific agendas, and prod the wider public into awareness of this grim and harmful traditional practice.

But, EndFGM messages are harder to deliver on the ground when those so tasked are not themselves trusted members of the relevant community.

This mis-match has unintended consequences

People who work within their own communities find themselves un-resourced and limited in what they can do. Unsurprisingly, they become aggrieved about this lack of support.

It almost impossible to campaign against FGM without any funds, but, as several narrators in my book Female Mutilation point out, everyone in their community knows when local activists are not funded, and this itself becomes 'evidence' the authorities don't attach much importance to the EndFGM message.

Accountability - national leaders pass the buck

Issues of propriety and governance about which groups of people receive formal funding to stop FGM are inevitable but not insurmountable.

Both local government and public health services are under serious threat, but they are ideally placed to manage on-the-ground FGM campaigns. These locally grounded organisations reach into the highest levels of national policy whilst also having excellent locality-specific intelligence, fully equipped to administer small funds for community action.

What's missing is political will at the pinnacle of government to determine strategies around FGM. 'Multi-agency' arrangements alone won't succeed.

Politicians at the top must take courage to determine very clearly how the UK's national bodies, the larger NGOs and the irreplaceable individuals and tiny groups at local level will share resourcing and responsibility to make FGM history.

Holidays, not nightmares

As Qamar Naseem of Blue Veins in Pakistan reports,

'young British girls ... pack their best clothes and favourite treasures, excited at the thought of a long visit to see their relatives.... These little girls don't know that, when they arrive, the plan is for them to undergo female genital mutilation.'

EndFGM community activists in our communities must have support. They are uniquely placed to insist, 'no more'.

Hilary Burrage is the author of two books about FGM (see www.hilaryburrage.com)

@NoFGM_UK @NoFGM_USA