Articles on Shifting Sands
The FGM/C crusade is out of control
Heard about the now infamous trip that the Liberal Democrat peer, Baroness Tonge, took from Heathrow to Addis Ababa on 11 July?
She noticed ‘The flight was heaving with mainly British-Somalia families returning to Somalia for ‘the holidays’. That’s code for the so called ‘cutting season’, the extended school holiday period during which, we are encouraged to believe, young girls are taken abroad to undergo female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). The girls were reported to be between 11 and 17 years and accompanied by their mothers and a ‘scattering of grannies’. Case proven apparently. Guilty until proven innocent? And more fuel added to FGM/C crusader’s fire.
She didn’t talk to any of the group members but instead reported her suspicions to the police on July 16th. They confirmed that the information has been passed to specialist officers from the Specialist Crime & Operations Command. The Border Force has also been alerted and will be on the lookout for ‘victims’ when the travellers return to Britain.
That’s in addition to the work being done by the authorities who are slapping new FGM Protection Orders on people whom they suspect of taking children abroad to be cut and are selectively removing passports.
The incident received a lot of media coverage, but few were as critical of it as Brendan O’Neill who wrote: ‘This ugly incident suggests the crusade against FGM is spinning out of control. It is casting a blanket of racialised suspicion across Britain. It is inviting all of us to spy on our African neighbours and friends for signs or whispers of FGM. It is generating division and authoritarianism.’
Unsurprising perhaps, his analysis ruffled some feathers and he was accused by some of taking a craven and self-serving stance in his ’knee jerk response’ and of calling Baroness Tonge a racist. But why such outrage?
Is it because he wrote; ‘I’m sensitive to the reduction of African migrants to objects of suspicion. I’m sensitive to the diminution of people’s freedom and autonomy. You want me to spy on my African neighbours? The African shopkeeper I see every morning? His daughter? I won’t do it. If the crusade against FGM means treating my fellow citizens as pre-criminals on the basis of their skin colour and heritage, count me out.’? Well, count me out also. I agree with O’Neill on this.
But I disagree with the commentator who, in attempted to challenge him, quoted a Unicef report to suggest that ‘FGM is rampant within the Somali community. In Somali the percentage of women who are forced to suffer FGM is 95-98%.’
Those figures do not ring true because UNICEF does not take sufficient account of, or credit people with the changes they have wrought in regard to the practice there. And without any evidence to support the statement, the commentator also wrote: ‘it has long been known that immigrant communities continue the practice in the UK.’ This of course couldn’t be referenced because, despite huge efforts by the authorities and campaigners to find recent and new evidence, they haven’t found any.
It’s a shame that in the crusade against FGM/C and associated efforts to keep it in the headlines, commentators and campaigners feel the need to exaggerate its prevalence and severity. In that process, they all too readily dismiss the efforts of ordinary people who are working hard to address this harmful practice here and abroad. Wouldn’t it be better to acknowledge that and encourage them in their endeavours instead?
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.