Huffpost UK Politics uk
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Hilary Burrage Headshot

The Momentum Increases: Leveson on Human Rights and the UN's FGM Announcement, All Within a Week

Posted: Updated:

It's has been quite a week on the human rights front for big news, both national and - has anyone noticed? - international.

Not often do we see massive steps towards gender equality coming thick and fast; but that's what's happening just now.

Consider: In the UK, Lord Justice Leveson's Report has brought a very bright light to shine on issues such as the objectification of women by the media; whilst at the United Nations we have at last seen the historic achievement of a consensus on the total unacceptability of female genital mutilation (FGM).

The first of these news items has struck home in Britain much harder than the second; but the second item is the globally momentous one.

To put things in proportion, the World Health Organisation says there are some 140 million women alive today who have been subjected to FGM - more than twice the total population (63 million) of the United Kingdom. That's rather a lot of people. And every single day some 6,000 more babies, girls and young women are added to this horrific total, as victims or at high risk. Of these, averaged out, perhaps 50 will be British children.

But just a week or so ago, for the very first time in history, the United Nations reached an accord on FGM. The members have at last signed up in principle to the notion that all female genital mutilation is unacceptable and that the 'practice' must stop forthwith.

To most of us in the West it may seem strange that such a proclamation should take so long, but we have no reason to be complacent. FGM has been illegal in the UK for more than three decades, yet to date no prosecutions have been brought - though moves very recently by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, may now change things quite fast. And this very week an international conference to 'put the rule of law behind women's rights' is taking place in London.

In part the lamentable inaction in Britain on FGM must surely be because our own culture too often accepts a view of women as without entitlement. We are perhaps squeamish, perhaps sexist or patriarchal. We maybe don't want to know about what's done to girls 'down there'.

If Lord Justice Leveson helps us as a nation to understand that no-one has the 'right' to see others as less than individual human beings - not, for instance, as sexual objects to be determined by others, but with entitlement to our own minds and bodies - he will have delivered a massive step forward for girls and women, and thereby also for boys and men.

The position now adopted by the United Nations also requires that people are seen as.... well, people. In their own right. The new UN agreement reaches many corners of the globe where enquiries such as Lord Leveson's are probably unimaginable.

It is to be hoped that what follows from the Leveson Report here in our own little island will resonate with the achievement of the last week, after many years of hard work, by the United Nations.

The language so far has been formal and legal, but the real battle is for hearts and minds. We all need to understand that ignoring or dismissing the rights of others permits overbearing and sometimes downright nasty behaviour.

There must surely be a way for us in the UK to consolidate our shared, national view of human rights so that we perceive our own fellow citizens - not least girls and women - as people, not as puppets for the press.

That shift in perceptions will also help the global move towards freedom from the much more brutal oppressions, including the shameful cruelty of female genital mutilation, which some girls and women in our own land, and many others in places elsewhere, currently endure.

~ ~ ~

Please sign HM Government e-petition, No. 35313, to STOP Female Genital Mutilation (FGM / 'cutting') in Britain (for UK citizens and residents).

The #NoFGM Daily News carries reports of all items shared on Twitter that day about FGM - brings many organisations and developments into focus.

See also: #NoFGM: A Listing For [UK] Action & References On Female Genital Mutilation - a collated (and growing) list of organisations and reports for those who want to find the major aspects of the issue in one place.

Hilary Burrage also blogs here.