People like me, a Muslim boy who felt FGM was not my concern, are slowly waking up to the fact that FGM is everybody's business. Grooming is also everybody's business. Radicalisation is also abuse, and it is everybody's business. And because it is everybody's business, it is our duty to fight it - and to protect vulnerable young people.
FGM, like veiling is not a practice confined to far off lands. FGM continues to be practiced illegally on British born girls, with a case reported in the UK approximately every two hours. If FGM is carried out on a white child in Britain, it will be regarded as criminal - so why does this position shift when a Somali child is violated?
WOW is all I can say when I look back at the last five years. So much has changed in the conversation about FGM and ending the practice within our lifetime is now a tangible reality. It is hard to believe that for me this journey started on a Saturday morning in one of the back rooms of Southbank Centre.
On Saturday 6th February it will be 13 years since the first International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation was marked in Nigeria. Organisations across the globe are continuing to fight FGM every single day and managing to remove some of the shroud of secrecy surrounding the practice...
Our record on bringing perpetrators to justice is woeful - even though we know FGM goes on all the time either here or in the girls' mother countries - both of which are illegal. A prosecution was brought - but the defendant was acquitted and so we are still awaiting our first successful prosecution...
FGM is a practice that would seem out of place in the dark ages, and yet it is being inflicted on young people living in our city today. Its frequency is a worrying phenomenon that cannot be ignored. Yet despite its apparent prevalence in the UK, not a single conviction for the illegal practice has ever been achieved.
Governments must ensure girls have knowledge of and support in exercising their own rights; a supportive environment where they can voice their concerns without fear of stigma or disbelief; assurance that they will not be re-victimised through a slow legal process; and girl-centred, specialist support services, if and when they are required.
I managed to escape the cut. My father was an educated man and did not want his children to experience it. Sadly he died when I was a child, but by the time I reached the cutting age, I refused it because of his teaching and my mother gave me shelter and protection. Many of my friends were not so lucky. ..
Tackling FGM might be a slow and long process, but with every lesson learned we'll get a little bit further towards our goal. It's comforting to see the willingness among all agencies in this country to end new cases of FGM. We are certainly going in the right direction, yet we need to ensure that all the willingness and commitment is not just talk...
Medical school is of course the traditional route for providing prospective doctors with the core knowledge and tools for the practice ahead. By not including FGM as a part of this process, information of even the basic nature of FGM is not being disseminated across the profession. A condition that affects over 130,000 women across the UK should be known to students who can also come into contact with patients that have undergone FGM or at risk of the act.
At the age of seven I was subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM). This did not happen because I was African or Muslim, but because I was female. I came back from that summer trip to Somalia to continue to live in the United Kingdom. By the age of 11, I had worked out that FGM was rooted in patriarchy and assumed that those tasked with leading this country would recognise this too, and care enough to protect girls like me. I also assumed that by the time I grew up I would be paid equally to men and be able to have a baby without affecting my career. But the older I got the more I lost faith that - without radical change - this equality would be something I would ever actually experience.
I want to make sure that anyone involved in this horrific practice, will be behind bars for a long-time. This is why someone in breach of a protection order can face up to five years in prison. This is in addition to laws already brought in - someone found guilty of assisting or performing FGM can face a sentence of up to fourteen years, whilst someone with responsibility of a child who has FGM performed on them, but failed to prevent the act could also face a sentence of up to seven years.
As we packed up our kit in the hot sun and Mary showed us the way back through the village and scarce trees to our car I thought about how hard it had been to hear Jane and Mary's stories, but was wowed by their powerful determination to end FGM and tell others about its dangers. Mary's final words to me are ones I'll never forget...
Since launching at the end of June 2013, the NSPCC's FGM helpline has received over 700 contacts from the public and professionals, nearly 300 have been so serious they have been referred onwards. One call involved a member of the public who had called with concerns for a young child who was absent from school for a few months for a holiday in Nigeria. Suspicions arose as the child's mother gave varying explanations for the absence and on her return to school the child's demeanour and mood had changed and she complained about painful toilet trips.
At Plan, we've supported young people who have intervened to stop child marriages in Bangladesh, youth activists who have helped raise the legal age of marriage in Malawi, and in Pakistan, young campaigners successfully making sure that their provincial governments deliver on a promise of free and compulsory education.