In more than two decades in the charity sector, I've been involved in a lot of campaigns about a lot of different issues. I've spent my professional life fighting for the rights of the most vulnerable children in the world and in that time we've take many strides forward in improving healthcare, sanitation and education systems. But it's rare that I've felt so optimistic about the potential for change as I do about the chance we have in the coming months and years to get it right for the world's girls.
Within any context, FGM is a vile and inhumane practice. For God-fearing Muslims, however, it strikes a particularly painful cord given that a small minority of the Muslim religious elite and their ill-guided flocks manipulate the peaceful teachings of Islam to socially, morally and even physically force women to undergo this harmful procedure.
There has been a reluctance on the part of Western governments to tackle FGM, for very good reasons. Intervention can be counter-productive, even when it comes from governments in the countries in which the practice is widespread. In Senegal in 1999, the government passed a law making the practice illegal. The following day, 100 girls in the region of Kedougou were cut in protest.
I've been supporting an amazing lady called Afusat since the New Year. With her solicitor's help, we have followed all procedures correctly. Fresh evidence and recent case law was submitted. Yet two weeks later, a short response came back, to say that her case had 'No merit', that she cannot appeal from within the UK and that she must return to Nigeria.
Hold onto your horses, this is not a men-bashing blog; I just want to offer some (hopefully) constructive criticism on why many men shy away from discussing FGM and all other forms of violence against women and girls (VAWG)... Before you attack me, I'd like to make it clear that I don't believe all men are guilty from shying away from such conversations and I certainly don't believe that all men who do avoid them condone FGM and other forms of VAWG. The point I want to make is that men need to recognise they have a responsibility to fight against such practices.
The public is increasingly engaged and motivated to act. The relevant policy is in place and front line professionals are being slowly equipped with the tools and information they need to ensure that FGM is streamlined into their child safeguarding procedures. There is no reason to continue to fail our girls.
In terms of domestic abuse, 31% of women have experienced one or more incidents since the age of 16. It is worth bearing in mind that sexual violence and domestic abuse are vastly underreported, so even though the UK is on par with the rest of the world statistically, in reality these numbers are likely to be much higher.
We already have a great network of organisations and individuals working to achieve this through educational, vocational and mentoring schemes, but more support is needed - both financial and on the ground. We need more men to get involved too, as these are problems that affect us all. Things won't happen overnight, but I believe that change is possible