FGM needs to be put on political centre stage. It needs the hashtags, the likes, the virals to bring the silent suffering of millions out in public discourse. Until such time 140 million girls and women will continue to be told that their genitals have been cut and mutilated to make them "clean" and "beautiful".
The prevalence of FGM varies between regions of Guinea-Bissau, depending on the distribution of different ethnic groups who consider the practice part of their ethnic identity, traditional and religious beliefs. And this is the crux of the issue. FGM is so bound up with the culture of many groups that it becomes hard, and controversial, to tackle it without seeming to undermine the very foundations of that historic culture.
Violence against girls and women is a global pandemic. One in three women is beaten or sexually abused in her lifetime, a statistic that shames us all. It is the most widespread form of systemic abuse and there is no evidence that levels are decreasing. It is an issue that the Huffington Post has been committed to highlighting and has been the subject of many recent Parliamentary debates. MP Bill Cash is currently taking an excellent Bill through the parliamentary process that if it becomes law will legally require DFID to makes sure that gender equality is considered before providing aid.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), surely, is one area where it is clear that politicians at whatever level must send out a strong message that this appalling practise cannot continue. So I was understandably outraged to learn that in a vote before Christmas, four Conservatives MEPs - Marta Andreasen, Nirj Deva, Sajjad Karim and Timothy Kirkhope - voted against a European Parliament resolution condemning FGM. Several Conservative and UKIP MEPs also failed to back the resolution by abstaining. This, in my view, shows politics at its worst, letting political point-scoring on the EU ruin a chance to be a strong voice for vulnerable girls fearing barbaric mutilation.
I want to say a massive thank you to all of you who supported our epetition and helped us reach over 100,000 signatures. The great British public stood with survivors and recognized the importance of this campaign. You have spoken out to say that FGM is child abuse and one of the worst forms of violence against women and you have asked the Government to put an end to it.
When the moment finally arrived, Leyla Hussein was asleep. Since July last year, along with her anti-FGM colleagues, she's been tirelessly campaigning to secure the 100,000 signatures necessary to qualify her petition for a Parliamentary debate on Female Genital Mutilation. Then at about 4am on Friday morning, the campaign finally crossed that particular finishing line.
The only man who ever wrote me beautiful letters was my dad, when we first moved to the UK and he was stuck back home in the Somali civil war, may his soul rest in peace. But for years I joked that I could use a love letter from a man proclaiming undying devotion... So I decided I should make the first step in proclaiming my love. Not towards Prince Charming, of course, but towards myself.
The making of The Cruel Cut documentary was one of the most challenging tasks I've ever undertaken in my anti-FGM campaigning. My aim has always been to teach the British public the effects of FGM, and how we should all make sure we protect our girls from this vile practice. I feel we achieved that and much more. But the response from the less well-intentioned viewers was to say, 'this is a Muslim issue.' It made me think. Had my message implied that FGM was purely an Islamic affair?
This rank hypocrisy on behalf of those who would not draw parallels between male and female genital cutting is strong evidence to the theory which holds that people can get away with almost anything - regardless of how brutal and cruel it may be - if only they justify it with a divine mandate, and enough history to confer respectability.
If an African girl wanted FGM we would be outraged, and rightly so. Why would we cut girls to control their sexuality and satisfy men? We can all agree on this. Yet when a girl from a non-FGM practicing community wants to be cut, trimmed or tucked we're told it's her choice. Aren't both examples of cultural coercion? Are we saying one happens to adults and the other to children? To some extend, that's true. But there are nine-year old girls, accompanied by their mothers, asking for cosmetic surgery on the NHS. Girls with normal genitals. Confused? Me too.
Was it to do with the control of women's and girls' bodies? Was it an older generation demonstrating that they had the ability to show authority, to violate their young? Was it about traumatised women visiting the same pain on girls, using custom as an excuse, in some subconsciously re-enacted cycle of abuse?
The basic human rights of children must always over-ride the 'cultural' sensitivities of adults. Until nations everywhere perceive FGM not as a custom, but rather as an epidemic which must be addressed by governments as well as community workers, it will continue to blight the lives of millions. Whole communities over generations suffer because of it.
This is not simply an abhorrent 'foreign' custom, beyond the understanding of 'Western' values, there are some 66,000 women living with the consequences of FGM in the UK, but another 22,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk of it here each year, with that number increasing. And it doesn't end there. Women are actually being sent to the UK to be mutilated.
"I wanted to save lives not put them at risk." That's what a former female genital cutter told me during a visit to Kenya this week, as she explained why she downed her tools and instead became a birth attendant. I believe this woman should be celebrated for taking such a brave stance against the centuries-old tradition of female genital mutilation. And she's not alone.
The school summer holidays are fast approaching. Many children and young people in these last few days of the academic year will be eagerly anticipating six weeks of carefree fun with their families and friends. But for some girls this year's summer break will mean leaving the UK to have their external genitals cut away or severely injured as part of a tradition practised in at least 28 countries world-wide.