Articles on Shifting Sands
Zero tolerance of social activist on Zero Tolerance to FGM Day
The irony! Zero tolerance of an exchange of views characterises the outlook of some anti-FGM activists on International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM.
I’ve been a social activist around FGM for some years now. But the more that the practice has assumed importance nationally and internationally, the more my concerns in regard to ‘approved’ activism grow.
I’ve raised some of these concerns at professional and public conferences and events and blog about them at www.shiftingsands.org.uk. I also use the social media platforms, Facebook and Twitter to engage.
FGM is a priority issue for the Government and many of its departments, e.g. Health, Education, Home Office, Overseas Development as well as the Voluntary Sector, campaigners and professionals. It’s also termed everybody’s business because of the link to child abuse.
The official FGM line conflicts with my knowledge, experience and gut feelings about the practice, borne out through many years of working in the health service in London, as well as ongoing contact with front line staff and targeted communities. I use conferences and events to learn how the anti-FGM related work is progressing and its effectiveness assessed, to familiarise myself with new developments and to speak with staff, project managers, leads and representatives. Many attendees learn what they should, must and have a duty to do in practice at these events. Some attend simply to tick the proverbial boxes.
Attendance at events also affords me opportunities to speak with a variety of frontline workers and others about their experience of the campaigns and associated activism, the difficulties they encounter and their reservations about them. I also enquire about the amount of contact they have with young women and girls who’ve undergone the practice.
Invariably the answer to the latter is that although some present for care directly associated with their FGM status, few of them were born in the UK or underwent it here. Staff assume however that because of the heightened awareness in regard to the practice generally, colleagues in other Boroughs and NHS Trusts must be seeing the ‘victims’ because of the priority it has assumed in practice. They fear ‘missing it’ because of the likely personal repercussions, remembering the prosecution of the London-based Doctor for allegedly ‘re-infibulating’ a patient.
Front line staff generally tell a different story to the official one. The latter reiterate the Government line, recount the well rehearsed guesstimates of numbers at risk, the types and prevalence of the practice etc. And regularly invite ‘survivors’ to recount the horror they had undergone when cut as children.
All of this contributes to justifying the continuance of the campaigns and the work that has ensued, such as surveillance of ‘at risk’ children and families and the increased involvement of services like health advocacy and social care in their private lives. Midwives have come to play particularly important roles in furthering these aspects.
It is rare to encounter any real discussion about the official version or to have the ‘given line’ challenged or questioned. When I’ve attempted to engage, raise problems or query aspects, my question(s) either remain poorly answered, ignored, or I’m told that if I don’t see the need for the campaigns, I must be a condoner of child abuse. I’ve even been called a ‘cultural imperialist’, whatever that means.
I recently applied to attend an International Zero Tolerance to FGM Day Event advertised by anti-FGM campaigners/activists. I’ll not name them to spare their blushes about what has ensued.
Soon after my application was confirmed, I received the following message.
Dear Brid Hehir – Shifting Sands,
Many thanks for registering to attend our International Zero Tolerance to FGM Day Event. Following our security checks we note your views on the issues relating Female Genital Mutilation are quite opposing and incensed and may even cause offence to the Event organizers and some participants attending the main Event.
Therefore, the management and security Team of the Event, having fully considered the situation have decided to withdraw your registration to attend the Event.
Your registration has been cancelled.
We apologies for any inconvenience this may cause.
I was taken aback by this and wrote in response:
I’ve just found this message in my junk mail and am surprised to learn that I’ve effectively been banned from attending the event.
I’d be interested to know how you reached the conclusion that my views are ‘opposing’ and likely to cause ‘offence’.
If you’d prefer to speak to me about this instead of emailing a response, I’d be happy to hear from you on xxxxxxxxxxx.
To Whom It May Concern,
Please refer to the contents of our previous email. Following the advice from our Management Team and security we have decided to withdraw your place. The Event is organized by FGM Survivors and they have reserved their comments.
So, cancellation of my attendance was reconfirmed but without any further explanation.
I had noted that another charity was also participating in the event. So I drew their attention to what had occurred in regard to my application by sending the following message via there website:
“I note that you are joining xxxx xxxx on Feb 5th. I wonder if you know that I have been banned from attending?
I added the message I’d received from xxxxx telling me my registration had been withdrawn. And continued:
I certainly believe in a robust exchange of views and blog at www.shiftingsands.org.uk. I hope that you do not think censoring me is a solution to the perceived problems they’ve raised and will ask them to reconsider?”
I did not receive a reply to this message before receiving ‘a warning’ from xxxxxxxx
We have received a complaint from several of our attendees that you have been touting an email stating that you have been ‘banned’. Please note our decision to withdraw your booking to our Event is final.
We note you are now looking to imposing and inflicting your views in order to compromise our Event. We will advice that you refrain from contacting the attendees and using the name of our organization.
Any further complaints of such nature will taken very serious as you intending to cause distress and we will seek legal action to redress the issue.
Please note this is a warning by the organizers of the Event.
Management and Team at xxxxxxxxx
Not only was I not allowed to attend, I was also being censored and had legal action threatened!
I also received the following message from the other organisation a few days later:
Thank you for your email to xxxxxxxx.
A member of our team is attending this event and will be talking about our work tackling FGM xx xxxx. We are not part of the organising team and are not responsible for matters relating to attendance but we have let our contact know that you contacted us.
It’s been really disappointing to have confirmed first hand how little interest there is among some anti-FGM campaigners/activists in discussing what has become a contentious issue, and how fearful they are of listening to anything other than what is pre-approved.
It’s also surprising. We all want the same outcome – an end to FGM. That there may be different approaches to achieving this aim and the merits or otherwise of each should be open to discussion and an exchange of views. Surely we owe that to the girls and women affected by FGM as well as those at risk of undergoing the practice? Don’t we?
About the Author - Bríd Hehir
Bríd is a retired health professional. She started her career as a nurse and midwife in Africa where she worked for almost four years. She encountered FGM/C in Ethiopia. She then moved to London where she worked in the National Health Service as a midwife, community nurse, health visitor, reproductive and sexual health nurse and manager over a period of 30 years. She did not encounter FGM/C during that time despite working with immigrant communities who are reported to practice it still. She is puzzled by the current reported prevalence of the practice, the official response and associated activism. And is worried that they might cause more harm than good.