FGM Is Nothing More Than A Human Rights Violation That Entrenches Inequality Between The Sexes And Ruins Young Girls Lives

06/02/2017 15:09 GMT | Updated 07/02/2018 10:12 GMT

As a former nurse I have cared for people suffering terrible pain. I have been exposed to the cruelty of illness and experienced first-hand how indiscriminate disease can be. But one thing, in more than 20 years working on the front line of the NHS, that I never got my head around is people's ability to harm other human beings.

To many of us the idea of mutilating girls' bodies through the form of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is so horrifying we struggle to accept it happens here in Britain - not in our cities, not in our towns. But the tragic reality is that in 2015/16 there were 5,700 recorded cases of FGM in England.

Today (Feb 6) is International Day of Zero Tolerance of FGM. FGM, or 'cutting' as it is otherwise known, is so traumatic on girls' bodies it leaves them unable to even pass urine free from discomfort. Can you imagine living in such constant pain that even something as simple as going to the bathroom becomes a challenge? That is without taking into account the repeated infections and psychological trauma it can cause.

There is no medical basis for this barbaric act. In some communities it is explained away as a "cultural practice". But in reality it is nothing more than a human rights violation that entrenches inequality between the sexes and ruins young girls lives.

Globally, it is estimated that at least 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone some form of FGM. Here, it is estimated that between 1996 and 2010, 60,000 girls were born in England and Wales to mothers who had undergone FGM, and approximately 137,000 women in England and Wales are likely to be living with the consequences of FGM.

As a member of the Women and Equalities Committee I have taken a keen interest in this issue and welcome the work that is being done both nationally and internationally to tackle FGM. In parliament I have met women who have lived through the trauma of FGM - they have told me first hand their stories and why they are campaigning passionately to end this practice. They tell parliamentarians their stories so we can act and prevent this happening to another generation of women.

The World Health Organisation has said that the practice of FGM "can end in one generation" and that is why it is so important we get involved in International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM. It is sad that we have to have such a day, but it gives us an opportunity to raise awareness and unite in eradicating this barbaric practice.

Britain has been leading the way with its zero tolerance approach. I am proud of the action this Conservative Government has taken in the fight against FGM. We have introduced a civil protection order that will prevent potential victims of FGM being taken abroad as well as making it a criminal offence for anyone who fails to protect a young girl from FGM.

Crucially, we have led international efforts to tackle FGM. Through UK aid we have invested £2.75 million to the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women to help organisations tackle gender-based violence, improve access to services such as legal assistance and healthcare, and strengthen laws and policies that protect women and girls. This will help over 500,000 vulnerable women and girls worldwide. We have also invested £3 million to AmplifyChange which will help support the work of 40 grassroots organisations with the local knowledge to address FGM around the world.

But the sobering fact remains that despite changes to the law in this country there is yet to be a single successful prosecution. This shows that the Government cannot win this fight alone. We need your help too. You can help to raise awareness in your local community and provide vital support to bring this hidden crime out into the open. No girl should grow up believing excruciating pain and discomfort is part of everyday life. If we are going to put a stop to FGM within a generation then we need to stand together acting as a strong voice against this barbaric practice.