The Association of Women Barristers held a forum in London at the Bar Conference on Saturday the 8th November on "achieving excellence in FGM cases".
It sounds like a nonsense since there have not been any prosecutions in the decades that female genital mutilation (FGM) has been criminalised in the UK but the panel included the DPP and Superintendent Jason Ashwood who heads up the rape and child abuse unit at the Met and started with a minutes silence for the late campaigner Efua Dorkenoo.
The forum was opened by expert FGM midwife Comfort Momoh who detailed the FGM horrors she has come across, including women who were cut as infants and have no recollection of who caused their injuries and no understanding of why they have had to live with serious health problems, just for being female.
She told of an adult woman who was cut as a punishment for trying to leave her husband and of markets that sell fried clitoris as a cure for infertility. Superintendent Ashwood has engaged with campaigners and listened to suggestions for improving the collection of evidence.
The statistics for referrals in London are on the up as anonymous tip offs increase. The cases which have reached the CPS have largely suffered as a result of the absence of witnesses and trauma of victims who struggle to identify who in their family was responsible.
My role was to details the decades of international law that has condemned the practice of FGM and the failure of global governments to prioritise the empowerment of women and girls. The approach is changing, but slowly. In the UK, the MOJ is still consulting on sensible proposals made by the Bar Human Rights Committee to make the law more effective: Civil protection orders are vital for child protection.
Parents can stand up to community pressure if they are slapped with an order not to mutilate their child. Examining children at risk in a similar way to they do in France, where there have been successful prosecutions, is not invasive when sensitively handled. Education for all citizens on what to look for and training for front line police officers, teachers and health workers is vital. The law cannot work alone.
There are practical solutions like a non-discriminatory questioning by health visitors and social media reporting systems as well as using hearsay evidence and out of court recordings so that children do not have to attend court. New laws will provide protection for migrant children and could go further to include criminalisation of parents who do not protect their children.
The campaigners have led the way where Governments have feared to tread. Efua's legacy ought to be a world without FGM and I am proud that women barristers are helping her to achieve this. What can you do? Talk about vaginas. I did - on a global scale.