Those of you who know me might think, "Really, Leyla? Do you honestly need another blog about female genital mutilation? You sound like a broken record" and you know what? I actually agree with you. I do wonder why after 11 years I'm still talking about FGM or wonder whether I should at least stop talking about it with the supermarket cashier, the postman, the babysitter... What the hell happened to small talk?
Unfortunately though, I can't shut up about it just yet. Despite my work, and the work of so many other women like me, whose dinner conversations have suffered, FGM is not going away.
This is the inevitable part where I lay out some facts and figures to help you understand the scale of the problem. I promise you I will make it as easy as possible and I will not try to sound clever (well, maybe just a little):
-FGM consists of the partial or total removal of the genitalia for non-medical reasons.
- FGM can lead to a range of health complications, from haemorrhage, to cysts, recurring infections, reduced sexual desire, infertility, infant and maternal mortality and long-term mental health problems.
-130-140million women worldwide have undergone FGM.
- Girls can be mutilated from the age of two weeks old to when a woman gives birth.
- They are mutilated for the sake of 'family honour' (and where 'honour' read the reputation of her future husband and his family).
-66,000 British women have undergone FGM.
-24,000 British girls are at risk every year.
I will now stop making lists and promise to avoid them in future posts. However, I know that some of you are already thinking "British girls? Surely not, Leyla." Others still will think "Come on, Leyla, everyone's banging on about FGM. If it was really happening we'd have arrested someone by now." This is where I roll my eyes, go all American and say "Hell to the no!" (I watch US reality TV. Don't judge).
You see, as a counsellor and campaigner I come in contact with too many British women who have been cut and I'm fed up of 'near' prosecutions that never materialise.
So why, despite all the talk and the years of work, is FGM being ignored by the UK government? Why is it not discussed in the same way any other form of child abuse is? After 11 years I have come to this conclusion: We, the British, refuse to engage in conversation on race, sex and gender; our inherent conservatism gets in the way of having an honest discussion on this subject. Because FGM only affects women and girls, it's practiced to control female sexuality and primarily affects black children, it's not to be discussed. That's right, I've used the race card, but hold your horses before you start lecturing me on race and relations; I'll save that for another blog.
Now I've said what's on my mind, I can also say I'm beginning to see some change. Only a month ago, health professionals finally came together to launch intercollegiate recommendations on FGM. In July, the NSPCC launched a children's helpline on FGM. The Home Office is responding to the recommendations of grass-roots organisations and developing a resource pack on FGM. Since my documentary, The Cruel Cut aired on Channel 4, 87,722 people have signed my petition with Equality Now to discuss FGM in parliament. So it time to stop?
Hell to the no!
I've also been around long enough to know we've come close many times before. When the law on FGM was amended in 2003, many campaigners stepped back and waited for change. Nothing happened. Now that there is real momentum on the campaign to end FGM, is the time to talk.
On Monday 25 November , Channel 4 and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on FGM are hosting a parliamentary discussion on supporting survivors of FGM.
With your continuous interest and support, we can finally get the government to commit to making a change to the lives of thousands of girls and women in the UK. Please don't let the noise die down. Sign my petition with Equality Now and if you have time, watch 'The Cruel Cut' documentary. There are vagina cupcakes involved, need I say more?
Stop FGM in the UK Now E-petition: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/52740
The Cruel Cut http://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-cruel-cut
Please help us end this, and stay tuned to read our progress in my new blog in the Huffington Post.
Follow Leyla Hussein on Twitter: www.twitter.com/leylahussein