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FGM Still Exists: And We Need To Fight Even Harder To Eradicate It

27/03/2017 08:33
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all women everywhere

The theme for this year's International Women's Day was #BeBoldForChange, calling on us all to make a world that works better and harder for gender inclusivity. Yet, despite society moving on from the sexism of the 1960s and 1970s, there are still some issues that demand our attention.

I have been involved in the campaign against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) for nearly 45 years, ever since I witnessed the impact of FGM for the first time as a student nurse, whilst on an obstetric placement. I was preparing a woman of Egyptian heritage for a theatre vaginal delivery of her third child. This required me to shave her public area; I still recall the shock of seeing her mutilated genitalia, and to my shame fainting at what I saw.

I later discovered that she had undergone what I came to know as a 'type 3' FGM procedure. Against all hospital protocols, the lady's husband was a member of the surgical team and was allowed to cut her, facilitate the birth and re-stitch her afterwards. The senior staff around me assured me that there was nothing to worry about and I was instructed to carry out other duties for the rest of the day.

Bizarrely, the only record of the event was the accident report I completed, detailing the cause of my collapse. This new mother had gone through something far more traumatic and dangerous. Yet, because FGM was considered a cultural practice, her medical records would have failed to mention it.

The campaign to eradicate FGM has seen huge progress since I decided to get involved back then. The traumatic procedure is now illegal in many part of the world and in the UK from 2015 there has been a mandatory requirement on health, social care, and teaching professionals to report any cases they identify to the police.

In London new cases are still being discovered amongst young girls, and there are thousands of women of all ages who are survivors of the practice. I have the honour of working along-side campaigners like Hibo Wardere - a Somalian-born campaigner, author, FGM educator and public speaker. In her memoir 'Cut' published in April 2016 by Simon & Schuster. Hibo takes us through her life from the age of 6 when she was made a victim of type 3 FGM, an event she describes as "being engulfed in pain from head to toe". I urge you all to read this poignant and powerful book.

It is frustrating to learn that an estimated 103,000 women aged 15-49 with FGM born in countries in which it is practised were living in England and Wales in 2011. In London, roughly 21 women out of every 1,000 are victims of FGM. With this in mind, I am more determined than ever that London becomes a 'Zero-cutting City.'

We have come a long way since International Women's Day was first recognised more than a century ago. Many of the earliest battles - including women's right to vote, own property, obtain degrees, maternity benefits/leave and the right to return to work are now a given. However, we have no room for complacency as stark inequalities and pervasive discriminatory forces remain for women socially, economically and politically.

So in the spirit of female empowerment, I wholeheartedly support the Mayor's assertion that tackling FGM will be an important part of his mayoralty. I am delighted that the London Assembly is undertaking a scrutiny on FGM and it is my privilege to lead it. We kick started the process with a conference at City Hall in January, which gave us many recommendations for our action plan.

Be assured I will #BeBoldForChange, and continue fighting until London is a city free of cutting.

Find more about me on my website.
Facebook: facebook.com/JennetteArnoldAM

HuffPost UK is running a month-long project in March called All Women Everywhere, providing a platform to reflect the diverse mix of female experience and voices in Britain today

Through blogs, features and video, we'll be exploring the issues facing women specific to their age, ethnicity, social status, sexuality and gender identity. If you'd like to blog on our platform around these topics, email ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com

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