Articles on Shifting Sands
UK Aid does not save girls from FGM
Recently Nimco Ali wrote a controversial and important piece entitled ‘Never in my fight against FGM have I seen a penny of UK aid money save one girl.’
That this comes from a high profile anti-FGM activist, a former employee at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) and an AID supporter is noteworthy. To date, surprisingly, it has neither generated a response nor a defence of Aid.
It’s good to see the scales fall from her eyes in regard to Aid and the work promoted as contributing towards ‘ending FGM world-wide by 2030’. She wrote the piece after an UK International Development equality impact assessment was made public, and ministers said that planned Aid cuts would impact millions of women and girls in Africa, saying:
‘I am here to tell you that is not true. I am on the frontline of the work the Foreign Office says it funds and I can tell you UK aid funding to “help end female genital mutilation” (FGM) has no evidence that a penny given has actually saved a girl from FGM.’
Until she engaged with the international development world she, like many, believed that UK Aid was saving lives and making the world a better place. Now she says ‘Our aid has never reached those they use on the cover of their reports and it’s time to be honest.’
The equality impact assessment showed Aid to be discriminatory and disorganised. Money is not given to the front line because people there ‘apparently can’t be trusted to get the money directly themselves so we create ridiculous consultant-led consortiums where local organisations are marginalised.’ It was instead ‘mostly spent in London on salaries and bonuses for the consultant organisations DFID sub-contracted.’
Who is the FCDO funding?
Components would be delivered by a six-member consortium led by Options. Included are Amref Health Africa, ActionAid, Orchid Project, Africa Coordination Centre for Abandonment of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting and University of Portsmouth. The programme is scheduled to run for three years until September 2025.
Targeted interventions are expected to e.g change attitudes and practices by working directly with communities; use media and communication campaigns to support positive norms change and advocacy to encourage leaders to prioritise ending FGM; support grassroots activists and youth initiatives with small grants to lead change within their communities and hold governments to account; and integrating efforts to end FGM into existing development programmes, taking advantage of their existing structures to reinforce ending FGM efforts at scale.
To demonstrate how Aid can be delivered more effectively, Ali has established the Five Foundation ‘which works at the systemic level to advocate for better funding streams to women on the African continent and beyond.’ Her Foundation launched a fund for grassroots activists ‘using the latest evidence of what works to end FGM’.
Her critical views on what she terms a ‘feminist’ foreign policy can be accessed in the opinion piece Feminist foreign policy activism can harm African women where she writes: “In the United Kingdom, The Five Foundation has pushed for systemic change for years, including a significant contribution to the new international strategy on women and girls. It has regularly brought senior decision-makers together with donors, the media, and business leaders, to make the case for investment in front-line women on the African continent. This shifting of the power to the local level would be real feminist foreign policy in action and could mean the U.K. would find its place again as a partner for global peace and prosperity.”
The Foundation’s work focused initially on three regions of Kenya, and has plans to extend to Somaliland and Djibouti. It suggests “The impact real and direct funding – rather than promised funding – has to those at the grassroots is eye-opening indeed.” It’s good to see her try to put money where her mouth is.
Meanwhile, I hope the Foundation takes a moment to correct the website’s inaccurate description of Clitoridectomy. No matter how severe the practice, the clitoris is never totally removed. This video of the vulva usefully explains its anatomy.
Ali could also review her contribution to the UK’s ‘patronising and draconian response‘ to FGM which risks victimising women who have already been abused. And to admit that activists like her were instrumental in promoting the need for the type of FGM-safeguarding experienced by some as stigmatising, exploitative and unjustified, and as an assault on belonging and citizenship.
And, importantly, to publicly acknowledge that adult genital piercings continue to be the only type of FGM reported in England.
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.