Female genital mutilation in Britain


by Rumbold
25th July, 2010 at 3:19 pm    

Building on previous investigations, the Observer has further uncovered the scale of female genital mutilation (FGM) which happens to girls living in Britain:

Some 500 to 2,000 British schoolgirls will be genitally mutilated over the summer holidays. Some will be taken abroad, others will be “cut” or circumcised and sewn closed here in the UK by women already living here or who are flown in and brought to “cutting parties” for a few girls at a time in a cost-saving exercise…

Even girls who suffer less extreme forms of FGM are unlikely to be promiscuous. One study among Egyptian women found 50% of women who had undergone FGM “endured” rather than enjoyed sex.

The practice is widespread in certain parts of the world, especially Africa, where it cuts across religious lines. It emerged in North Africa in the pre-Christian era, and is a long established tradition in places like Egypt. Neither the Qur’an nor the Bible orders or forbids FGM, which adds to the uncertainty which allows the practice to thrive. Leading Islamic scholars, including Sunni Islam’s foremost jurist, condemned the practice a few years ago, but other notable religious teachers have continued to endorse FGM, suffering little opprobrium in the process. The head of the Coptic Church has also criticised the practice, but this hasn’t been enough to stop it amongst Copts.

FGM is a difficult practice to eradicate, not just because it is sanctioned by some scholars and is long established, but because it fits so well into the system of control which extends over females, which is a system endorsed by many females themselves. As one community worker put it:

FGM has a social function and until this is understood by social services and other bodies they will never stop it. It is a power negotiation mechanism, that women use to ensure respect from men. It prevents rape of daughters and is a social tool to allow women to regain some power in patriarchal societies. With girls living in the UK there is no need to gain the power – it has to be understood that girls can be good girls without FGM.

Despite two acts targeting FGM in the last twenty five years (1985 and 2003) and promising stiff penalties, there have been no prosecutions relating to FGM. One of the main problems is where the actual mutilation takes place. British girls are often taken abroad to have the procedure done, where it is much more acceptable and doctors turn a blind eye. Even procedures performed in the UK are difficult to discover, as the victims are mostly minors and any witnesses are likely to be relatives who are there to keep the victim controlled, or else specially hired ‘cutters’. Asking doctors and other health professionals to remain vigilant is all very well, but this would lead to some girls being withdrawn from this sphere for fear of prosecution.

Yet could the state be doing more? The Metropolitan Police has an anti-FGM unit, Project Azure, but the comments from one of its members didn’t inspire massive confidence:

Empowering youth, giving them the information, is the way forward. They are coming from predominantly caring and loving families, who genuinely believe this is the right thing to do. Many are under a great deal of pressure from the extended families.

Sometimes it might be as simple as delivering the message of what the legal position is; sometimes we even give them an official letter, a document that they can show to the extended family that states quite firmly what will happen if the procedure goes ahead. The focus has to be on prevention.

The families do believe they are doing right, but I would struggle to characterise them as loving and unaware of the law. As I noted above, leading religious figures have condemned the practice, whilst flying girls out to foreign countries and avoiding examinations suggests the families know exactly what the law is. Prosecution is difficult because of the lack of witnesses, which leaves the onus on medically examining the victim (who can refuse to consent), but the consequences of no successful prosecutions are severe too, as this creates a culture of impunity amongst FGM practitioners.

The practice will ultimately only die out with a change in attitudes (as a result of greater freedom, information and education), but for now the state needs to push for prosecutions, and stop worrying about ‘alienating communities’. Until this happens, in the view of the head of the leading anti-FGM charity in the UK, the government’s commitment to stopping FGM will ‘remain hollow’, and the practice is likely to continue on a similar scale.

(Hat-tip: KJB)


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  1. sunny hundal

    Blog post:: Female genital mutilation in Britain http://bit.ly/bZMqEs


  2. Alex J. Thomas

    RT @sunny_hundal: Blog post:: Female genital mutilation in Britain http://bit.ly/bZMqEs


  3. Tab

    RT @sunny_hundal: Blog post:: Female genital mutilation in Britain http://bit.ly/bZMqEs <–Happening in the US too, esp. NYC. :-(


  4. Angela Relle

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  6. Marwa Galal Hassan

    RT @sunny_hundal: Blog post:: Female genital mutilation in Britain http://bit.ly/bZMqEs


  7. Dil Nawaz

    RT @sunny_hundal: Blog post:: Female genital mutilation in Britain http://bit.ly/bZMqEs




  1. boyo — on 25th July, 2010 at 6:51 pm  

    Certainly the state can do nothing but enact the law – families who facilitate this should be charged with grievous bodily harm and imprisoned – can you imagine the sentences that would be passed down if “Western” children were kidnapped and had their clitorises cut off?!

    But how likely is it too actually happen? PP is among the first to accuse the authorities of harassment (stop and search, video cameras). The effort it would take to identify and root out this behaviour would entail considerable intrusion… at a time when police budgets are being reduced. It might reinvigorate human rights lawyers bank accounts, but achieve little else.

    A thankless task.

  2. boyo — on 25th July, 2010 at 7:03 pm  

    And actually, here’s something you might wish to add to your post in OUTRAGE (Rumbold and Sunny) at the idiocy of your loverly Lib Con government and its commitment to civil liberties.

    On August 6 the Contact Point database, which enabled the dreaded authorities to be aware if children had had any contact with any other professionals (police, social worker etc) is being scrapped. Not to save money, but because it is supposedly “intrusive”.

    http://www.cypnow.co.uk/news/ByDiscipline/Social-Care/1018055/Government-switch-off-ContactPoint-August/

    “However, the NSPCC has voiced concerns about the decision to shut down the database before a replacement is in place. A spokesperson said: “Numerous reviews into child abuse cases have shown vulnerable children are at serious risk when professionals fail to share information speedily and effectively.

    “It is vital we have a system that allows concerns about children to be spotted and acted on rather than being allowed to fall between the different agencies working with them.”

    There will be no equivalent replacement of course. Just one of many pieces of liberal idiocy currently slipping through relatively unnoticed and storing up destroyed lives for the future. You moan about FGM while your side is merrily wielding the scalpel.

  3. earwicga — on 26th July, 2010 at 1:28 am  

    ‘…which adds to the uncertainty which allows the practice to thrive’

    Women are seen as sub-human with no individual agency. There is no uncertainity.

  4. Rumbold — on 26th July, 2010 at 8:35 am  

    Boyo:

    I agree that often there has to be be a trade off between liberty and security. However, sticking with FGM and Contact Point, I am not sure if the latter would help in this regard. It is not clear whether knowing about other contact with the authorities would increase the chances of stopping FGM, or that the average family with FGM has had much contact witht hwe authorities.

    Earwiga:

    I meant the uncertainty which derives from not knowing whether religious authority sanction it or not.

  5. boyo — on 26th July, 2010 at 9:07 am  

    It has if the child is regularly taken out of school, for eg. In any case, with regard to FMG this is one key tool of supervision the authorities are now deprived of.

  6. Cauldron — on 26th July, 2010 at 9:42 am  

    “Yet could the state be doing more?”

    In one sense, no because the state’s ability to directly intervene is limited. FGM will only die out when a community starts policing itself.

    But the state can intervene indirectly by turning up the volume on the issue. Unfortunately in this case you are dealing with a particularly stubborn practice, so the state is going to have to crank up the volume an uncomfortably long way. These people aren’t open to reason (else they wouldn’t mutilate their daughters) so the state is going to have to inculcate a sense of fear instead.

    Instead of the Met saying that the mutilators are part of a loving family I would like a government minister to say something like “Somali, Eritrean and rural Egyptian cultures are despicable and worthless. Until these scum stop behaving like animals we won’t let any more of them into Britain.” Sure this would ruffle a lot of feathers -it’ll have to in order to get a hearing from the relatives back home (who probably apply a lot of pressure on the emigres). I dare say we’d hear a lot of guff about the Pharaohs and BAe might lose some business. But it would be worth it to save these girls from torture.

    The fact that all the religions apparently disown the practice means it ought to be easier to shout down the offenders’ culture without causing a wider community ruckus.

  7. MaidMarian — on 26th July, 2010 at 11:25 am  

    Rumbold – Boyo has a point.

    Whatever one thinks of civil liberties, the start reality it that there may be times when ‘solutions’ insofar as they can ever exist are not comfortable with civil liberty.

    Similarly, as ever I agree with Cauldron’s point, if not the hyperbole. There are occasions where sensitive racil toes need to be stood on and I think this is one of them.

  8. damon — on 26th July, 2010 at 1:17 pm  

    Rumbold

    The practice will ultimately only die out with a change in attitudes (as a result of greater freedom, information and education) ….

    In Africa you mean? As as long as there is a strong connection between communities here and in Africa where it is commonplace – then it will still happen here.
    With new family members arriving from FGM areas to Britain all the time, and with people from here going back for visits, it’s not something that can be stopped from this end.

    And zero prosecutions? Just as well maybe, as they won’t make for very nice Daily Mail stories.

  9. boyo — on 26th July, 2010 at 2:03 pm  

    I think faith in “progress” is a common fallacy. Let’s be clear about this – cutting off girl’s bits, a bit like making children wear head scalves (exactly how are five year olds supposed to be turning grown men wild with desire I wonder?) – is about power.

    These cultures seek to deprive women of (their sexual) power. While they can continue to do that, why on earth (from the Patriachy’s perspective) shouldn’t they?

  10. damon — on 26th July, 2010 at 3:26 pm  

    Children’s hijabs aren’t as sinister as that boyo.
    I saw them quite a lot in Malaysia, and it’s just a kind of tradition with some people. You could call them ‘training hijabs’ I suppose. It might be as innocent as dressing up little girls in ribbons and bows – it can be viewed differently. It’s just how some people dress their children.

    Sometimes I saw it and just felt like saying to the mother, ”would you take it off her and let her play unencumbered for a few more years” … but I obviously couldn’t.
    http://fadzbiz.com/kedai/makethumb.php?pic=images/fara4a.jpg&w=195&sq=Y

    Although I don’t really like it either, it’s a world away from what we’re talking about here.

  11. Cauldron — on 26th July, 2010 at 3:53 pm  

    The hyperbole was deliberate MaidMarian. We’re talking about disrupting deeply entrenched patriarchal power relationships, attacking family traditions and making our point of view heard among family members in East Africa. This can’t be achieved with soft words alone. You have to do something to grab people’s attention.

    This may be one of those very rare occasions where it is better for politicians to threaten rather than persuade and better to use deliberately inflammatory language rather than calm logic.

    Recently I was in the Ethiopian highlands. At one point my guide mentioned that he knew people who’d moved to the West by a range of means (one was on a scholarship at Oxford, another had overstayed a visa in the US) and many more had that ambition. During our conversation I gently (not wishing to offend my host) suggested that not all migrants from East Africa were viewed favourably, especially those who came illegally or those who had zero qualifications.

    The point was completely lost on him. Likewise I suspect that a gentle message of “FGM makes us a bit queasy” would be lost on the traditionalists whereas they might respond more readily to an explicit threat of retribution. Bullies don’t back down in the face of reason, they back down in the face of superior force.

  12. Michael Knight — on 26th July, 2010 at 4:02 pm  

    But genital mutilation of baby boys and young infants is okay?

  13. john — on 26th July, 2010 at 4:33 pm  

    “But genital mutilation of baby boys and young infants is okay?”

    Yes because certain communities that are beyond criticism carry it out while female mutilation is wrong because certain communities who arent do.

  14. boyo — on 26th July, 2010 at 4:45 pm  

    I’m circumcised!

    TMI maybe, but take it from me Michael it has done nothing to constrain my sexual pleasure…

    It was a hygiene thing in my case, though I’m neither Jew or Muslim. It was not to prevent me having an orgasm.

    Just thought I’d get that straight ;-)

    Yeah, that’s right John “certain communities that are beyond criticism” – those international bankers, well they have such influence don’t they! Deeply sinister! That’ll be why Sunny shies away from criticism on such a regular basis – who knows where their tentacles of influence might reach.

    Racist prick.

  15. africana — on 26th July, 2010 at 4:49 pm  

    i think you’re probably correct, here, john.

    has any heard of the hoodectomy that goes on in cosmetic surgery clinics? well, that’s exactly identical to the least severe form of circumcision which is widely practised in malaysia. it involves the removal of the foreskin of the clitoris, not the clitoris itself. and so is also, process wise, very like male cricumcision.

    i share everyone’s horror at what goes on in africa, though. utterly barbaric and utterly islamic.

  16. africana — on 26th July, 2010 at 4:50 pm  

    oops…utterly UNislamic, i meant.

  17. Sunny — on 26th July, 2010 at 5:26 pm  

    There are occasions where sensitive racil toes need to be stood on and I think this is one of them.

    But to do what?? I’m all for action – but what do you actually recommend?

  18. ¬AFAR — on 26th July, 2010 at 5:35 pm  

    “It is a power negotiation mechanism, that women use to ensure respect from men. It prevents rape of daughters and is a social tool to allow women to regain some power in patriarchal societies.”

    I have read some culturally relative, uninformed guff in my time – but rarely have I read something of such abysmal, ignorant stupidity.

    FGM is *not* a “power negotiation mechanism that women use to ensure respect from men”. Men *expect* women in countries like Sudan to by genitally mutilated – and women are accordingly so mutilated. It is not a matter of power negotiation, but of subjugation to power.

    It does *not* “prevent rape of daughters” – the utterer of this nonsense is making it up as he/she goes along. Rape has been identified as a key mechanism of social control in the very states where FGM is common. Sudanese women are raped by police (for the slightest “provocation”), Darfuri and Beja women are raped for beign born into the wrong tribes. Meanwhile over 80% of Sudanese women are bearers of genital mutilation.

    “a social tool to allow women to regain some power in patriarchal societies.”

    Really? Is that what you call not being able to menstruate save via a tiny hole left where you have been stitched up after having both sets of labia as well as your clitoris removed by an old woman armed with a razor blade? Is it “regaining power” to suffer shock, blood poisoning and possibly death because the antiseptic of choice is cold, black tea? Is it truly a matter of redressing the gender balance to dread the marriage bed, to which one’s husband comes armed with another razor blade to cut you open before first intercourse? How about the month or so it takes to recover afterwards? What about the gynecological complications of FGM? How about the dangers of fistulae? Not being able to walk properly because of the massive scarring?

    Fuck off.

  19. Don — on 26th July, 2010 at 5:39 pm  
  20. boyo — on 26th July, 2010 at 6:59 pm  

    On the circumcision front, well it’s hard to say a bad thing about it – prologued sexual please, more pleasing aesthetically (so I’ve been told), cleaner, and actually quite effective against the transmission of HIV. When i used to work in sexual health in Africa, it was one of those things we all knew but couldn’t really promote, as it was feared it would be seen as a “solution” and people would stop using condoms.

    But actually, it is pretty damn cool, circumcision. A cut above, in fact.

  21. persephone — on 27th July, 2010 at 12:08 am  

    Its a difficult one to monitor but a mixture of awareness & coercion…

    I’d like it to be specifically campaigned in high profile advertising – perhaps NSPCC advertising and real life pictures of the tools used.

    Also, if a woman/girl is taken to hospital and it is obvious that FGM has taken place, the medical staff are under a duty to report it for an enquiry to be made with the family concerned. That the family are assigned ‘at risk’ and monitored, including the schools informed of any other children in that family. Get the local mosque involved.

    I feel that strongly about it.

    I am surprised that there is not even one ‘whistle blower’ who can reveal who the cutters are, specific villages they are from for the authorities to then follow up & if the same cutters make visits their right to visit be permanently refused and enquiries made as to where they stayed on their visits.

    Also, what do mosques say on the subject to their congregation?

  22. damon — on 27th July, 2010 at 2:08 am  

    It’s a bit like this Dispatches programme called ‘Saving Africa’s Witch Children’ on TV last night. The authorities really haven’t got a clue because people keep quiet about the abuse.

    One church alone where this exorcism of children is commonplace has 34,000 members in Britain.
    This one.
    http://deyabroadcastingnetwork.com/default.aspx

    I’d say that the state just have to get through to those people who have influence in communities, and lay down the law to them and say this will not be tolerated.

    In the Dispatches programme, an African man from the Victoria Climbie Trust said that social services were nervous about getting involved in cultural issues like that, in case they were accused of rasism.
    That’s what he said.

  23. Jenny — on 27th July, 2010 at 6:59 am  

    there’s some good ideas on how to approach and scale down the practice right here:

    http://www.amptoons.com/blog/archives/2007/07/05/problematizing-legal-approaches-toward-stopping-fgs/

  24. Rumbold — on 27th July, 2010 at 8:35 am  

    Boyo:

    A child only needs to be taken out once. And as the article indicated, the children are taken over in summer holidays, so this wouldn’t flag anything up.

    Cauldron:

    Instead of the Met saying that the mutilators are part of a loving family I would like a government minister to say something like “Somali, Eritrean and rural Egyptian cultures are despicable and worthless. Until these scum stop behaving like animals we won’t let any more of them into Britain.

    On the contrary, this would be a terrible idea. FGM is one part of these cultures, not the whole. Saying this would (rightly) be perceived as racist, and would help obscure any action over FGM. What this Met needs to sayign is that the practice is disgusting and that the people who practice it are disgusting too who will face the full force of the law.

    Damon:

    With new family members arriving from FGM areas to Britain all the time, and with people from here going back for visits, it’s not something that can be stopped from this end.

    Well, it does need to be stopped from both ends. Hopefully, if we work on it in this country, that will influence those back home (especially as the communities become more established in this country).

  25. Rumbold — on 27th July, 2010 at 8:38 am  

    AFAR:

    I agree. And this is part of the problem, in that some people vierw it as that way, so they help to perpetuate the practice.

  26. damon — on 27th July, 2010 at 1:01 pm  

    Rumbold

    Well, it does need to be stopped from both ends. Hopefully, if we work on it in this country, that will influence those back home (especially as the communities become more established in this country).

    That will be an awfully slow process. Reading that very interesting link Jenny gave @23 tells that. This is what ring-fenced overseas aid bugets are for I would guess. But in failed states, and failing regions hit by drought and instability, things don’t look so bright on this front.

    And boyo @20. You believe what you like. You don’t know what you’ve missed. Poor fella.

  27. Ahmed — on 29th July, 2010 at 6:00 am  

    Female Circumcision is one of the most misunderstood practices of Islam. Here’s an excellent article showing that it is not the kind of mutilation it is commonly believed to be and that is the same as hoodectomy which western women are increasingly choosing to undergo for better genital hygiene and an enhanced sex life :

    There exist many ahadith or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) to show the important place, circumcision, whether of males or females, occupies in Islam.

    Among these traditions is the one where the Prophet is reported to have declared circumcision (khitan) to be sunnat for men and ennobling for women (Baihaqi).

    He is also known to have declared that the bath
    (following sexual intercourse without which no prayer is valid) becomes obligatory when both the circumcised parts meet (Tirmidhi). The fact that
    the Prophet defined sexual intercourse as the meeting of the male and female circumcised parts (khitanul khitan or khitanain) when stressing on the need for
    the obligatory post-coital bath could be taken as pre-supposing or indicative of the obligatory nature of circumcision in the case of both
    males and females.

    Stronger still is his statement classing circumcision (khitan) as one of the acts characteristic of the fitra or God-given nature (Or in other words,
    Divinely-inspired natural inclinations of humans) such as the shaving of pubic hair, removing the hair of the armpits and the paring of nails (Bukhari) which again shows its strongly emphasized if not obligatory character in the case of both males and females. Muslim scholars are of the view that acts constituting fitra which the Prophet expected Muslims
    to follow are to be included in the category of wajib or obligatory.

    That the early Muslims regarded female circumcision as obligatory even for those Muslims who embraced Islam later in life is suggested by a tradition occurring in the Adab al Mufrad of Bukhari where Umm Al Muhajir is reported to have said: “I was captured with some girls from Byzantium. (Caliph) Uthman offered us Islam, but only myself and one other girl accepted Islam. Uthman said: ‘Go and circumcise them and purify them.’”

    More recently, we had Sheikh Jadul Haqq, the
    distinguished head of Al Azhar declaring both male and female circumcision to be obligatory religious duties (Khitan Al Banat in Fatawa Al-Islamiyyah. 1983). The fatwa by his successor Tantawi who opposed
    the practice cannot be taken seriously as we all know that he has pronounced a number of unislamic fatwas such as declaring bank interest halal and questioning the obligation of women wearing headscarves.

    At the same time, however, what is required in Islam, is the removal of only the prepuce of the clitoris, and not the clitoris itself as is widely believed. The Prophet is reported to have told Umm Atiyyah, a lady who circumcised girls in Medina: “When you circumcise, cut plainly and do not cut severely, for it is beauty for the face and desirable for the
    husband” (idha khafadti fa ashimmi wa la tanhaki fa innahu ashraq li’l wajh wa ahza ind al zawj) (Abu Dawud, Al Awsat of Tabarani and Tarikh
    Baghdad of Al Baghdadi).

    This hadith clearly explains the procedure to be followed in the circumcision of girls. The words: “Cut plainly and do not cut severely”
    (ashimmi wa la tanhaki) is to be understood in the sense of removing the skin covering the clitoris, and not the clitoris. The expression “It is beauty
    (more properly brightness or radiance) for the face” (ashraq li’l wajh) is further proof of this as it simply means the joyous countenance of a
    woman, arising out of her being sexually satisfied by her husband. The idea here is that it is only with the removal of the clitoral prepuce that
    real sexual satisfaction could be realized. The procedure enhances sexual feeling in women during the sex act since a circumcised clitoris is much
    more likely to be stimulated as a result of direct oral, penile or tactile contact than the uncircumcised organ whose prepuce serves as an
    obstacle to direct stimulation.

    A number of religious works by the classical scholars such as Fath Al Bari by Ibn Hajar Asqalani and Sharhul Muhadhdhab of Imam Nawawi have stressed on the necessity of removing only the prepuce of the
    clitoris and not any part of the organ itself. It is recorded in the Majmu Al Fatawa that when Ibn Taymiyyah was asked whether the woman is
    circumcised, he replied: “Yes we circumcise. Her circumcision is to cut the uppermost skin (jilda) like the cock’s comb.” More recently Sheikh
    Jadul Haqq declared that the circumcision of females consists of the removal of the clitoral prepuce (Khitan Al Banat in Fatawa Al Islamiyya.1983).

    Besides being a religious duty, the procedure is believed to facilitate good hygiene since the removal of the prepuce of the clitoris serves to prevent
    the accumulation of smegma, a foul-smelling, germ-containing cheese- like substance that collects underneath the prepuces of uncircumcised
    women (See Al Hidaayah. August 1997).

    A recent study by Sitt Al Banat Khalid ‘Khitan Al-Banat Ru’ yah Sihhiyyah’ (2003) has shown that female circumcision, like male circumcision, offers considerable health benefits, such as prevention of urinary tract infections and other diseases such as cystitis affecting the female reproductive organs.

    The latest is the study Orgasmic Dysfunction Among Women at a Primary Care Setting in Malaysia. Hatta Sidi, and Marhani Midin, and Sharifah Ezat Wan Puteh, and Norni Abdullah, (2008) Asia Pacific Journal of Public Health, 20 (4) accessible http://myais.fsktm.um.edu.my/4480/ which shows that being Non-Malay is a higher risk factor for Orgasmic Sexual Dysfunction in women, implying that Malay women experience less problems in achieving orgasm than non-Malay women. As you know almost all Malay women in Malaysia are circumcised (undergo hoodectomy) in contrast to non-Malay women who are not. This would suggest that hoodectomy does in fact contribute to an improved sex life in women rather than diminishing it as some argue.

    For more benefits of Islamic female circumcision also known as hoodectomy see http://www.hoodectomyinformation.com

  28. ¬AFAR — on 29th July, 2010 at 11:04 am  

    Ahmed is simply the latest incarnation of the well known racist troll Munir/blah/me, etc, etc.

    His defence of FGM goes hand in hand with his support for genocide against Bangladeshi and his usual repellent fascist views on nearly everything else. As per usual, he cuts and pastes rather than states in his own words because not only is he deeply reactionary, he is also as thick as two short ones nailed together sideways.

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