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Politicians at Every Level Must Join the Fight Against FGM

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Being in Coalition with people who have different priorities brings its challenges, especially on issues where there are major political differences. So while Lib Dems have listened to the science on climate change, we expect the Tories to want to try and cut all the "green crap". However, on some areas you just don't predict division, and are appalled when the basic assumptions you hold about humanity seem to be questioned by MPs of different stripes.

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.

Sarah Ludford MEP summed it up best when she said: "[the] vote was a betrayal of the millions of young girls who have been subjected to genital mutilation the world over. As Liberal Democrats we think that Tory and Ukip MEPs would do better to put their personal attitudes towards the EU aside when it comes to something as important as the fight against FGM. Surely we should be standing united, together, in condemning this barbaric practice and working to end it.

International development minister Lynne Featherstone said that FGM had come to "symbolise the brutal oppression" of women across the world. She is right, and we must work tirelessly to end it by using our 'soft power' around the world to convince governments to act, through education, legislation and by helping shift cultural practices. Part of that of course means working through the EU, which can amplify Britain's voice on the world stage.

But we must take the lead at home too. According to the Evening Standard last year, more than 2,000 victims of female genital mutilation have sought treatment at London hospitals in the past three years. Home Office minister Norman Baker has said he will not allow "political sensitivities" to get in the way of stamping out female genital mutilation. He is right, we shouldn't, and I know that by working together Lynne and he will make a big difference on this issue. They are working to make sure teachers are to be given training to help them identify girls who may be at risk of being subjected to FGM. Lynne and Norman also met with religious leaders, who were asked to use their influence to stamp out the practice. These two ministers are leading the way on this issue and it's up to us to follow them. I will be supporting them however I can, and I hope MPs from all parties will do too.

For me - human rights and women's rights should be at the centre of our foreign policy. We have long prided ourselves on being a beacon of tolerance and hope to millions throughout the world. That is why our country is playing a leading role in the fight against FGM throughout the world, in support of the many African countries that have already banned the practice. I think we should be proud of that, and not undermine our position by sending out mixed signals.

Around the Web

Female genital mutilation - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Female genital mutilation affects a fifth of young girls in sub-Saharan Africa

Teachers are failing to raise issue of FGM with primary pupils

RUTH RENDELL: My horror at the thousands of British girls undergoing female ...