This Saturday marks V-Day/One Billion Rising: a worldwide movement to end all forms of violence against women and girls. With 140 million women currently living with the effects of female genital mutilation, feminist activist Lyndsey Jefferson explains why the subject is everyone’s business.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is not an easy subject to talk about. The taboo of discussing women’s genitals exists in every culture, and it can be difficult to engage with an issue that might feel far removed from one’s own individual experiences. However, each and every one of us must stop living under the illusion that FGM is not our issue. This Saturday, the 14th of February, is V-Day/One Billion Rising, a global activist movement to end all forms of violence against women and girls. According to the United Nations, one out of every three women in the world will personally experience physical or sexual violence. That’s one billion women. V-Day is a reminder that FGM and VAWG are international problems that transcend cultural, religious, and class boundaries.
FGM refers to the partial or total removal of the female genitals for non-medical reasons, with the goal of controlling a woman’s sexuality. It is usually carried out on very young girls between infancy and the age of 15. FGM is practiced in 29 countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, and due to migration it is also happening in Europe, North America, and Australia. 140 million women worldwide are currently living with the harmful health and psychological effects of FGM. Over the next decade, 30 million more girls will be at risk. In the UK alone, over 20,000 girls risk undergoing FGM each year. It’s time to start talking.
We must challenge the misconception that FGM is a cultural or religious practice, and not a subject for polite conversation. Here in Britain, the fear of being politically incorrect has severely undermined efforts to end FGM in the UK. This is not cultural imperialism – ending this harmful practice is a human rights issue. Using the right language is also crucial: FGM is an act of violence against women and girls. Full stop. We would not accept a practice of cutting off a girl’s arm for culture, so how can we be silent about FGM?
By starting an open and honest discussion about FGM, we can create an environment in which more people are comfortable talking about sexual violence. FGM is shrouded in secrecy and in the affected communities everyone plays a role upholding this practice. Women who speak out against FGM risk a strong backlash, and uncut women are often stigmatised and ostracized. This is why it is absolutely vital that women and girls feel empowered and confident to talk about FGM in order to end the cycle of shame that drives the practice underground
Caroline Crawford and Lyndsey Jefferson campaigning for The Girl Generation
FGM is one of the most important issues of our time because it goes hand-in-hand with other gender equality issues, including child, early, and forced marriage (CEFM), honour-based violence, and girls’ education. We cannot end VAWG without looking at the intersections of race, poverty, war, and the environment. Talking about FGM opens up doors to wider discussions and can be a catalyst for change. The survivors will lead the way to ending this practice, and it is our duty to listen to their stories, and be humble and ready to learn. Everyone has a part to play in making a world that is safe for girls.
A sense of humour can be a very powerful way of breaking down barriers while talking about difficult and complex issues. This interview featuring my friend and anti-FGM campaigner Leyla Hussein and comedian Bridget Christie illustrates how talking about FGM may not always be easy, but it can be funny.
We need to push ourselves to take a stand, even though it may not always be easy. The rights of girls and women are more important than feeling comfortable. As women, as men, as parents, teachers, lawyers, police officers, health professionals, and as human rights advocates – FGM is everybody’s business, today and every day.
Spread the word this V-Day. Join the revolution and find a One Billion Rising event in your city: www.onebillionrising.org/events/#!/-2.1088986592431254/-6.328125/1/. Visit www.thegirlgeneration.org, follow @TheGirlGen and Facebook.com/TheGirlGen, and be a part of the generation where FGM ends.
Lyndsey Jefferson is a feminist activist and writer currently working for The Girl Generation. She holds an MSc in Human Rights from the London School of Economics. Follow her on Twitter @lyndseyj.