Articles on Shifting Sands
Zero Tolerance to engagement about FGM manifesto
Action:FGM, ‘a coalition of organisations that are working to end FGM and other harmful practices that undermine the well-being of women and girls’ recently circulated a manifesto asking for endorsements.
I was not sent the manifesto. But I was forwarded it as somebody with a keen interest in discussions and activism in regard to the practice, together with the covering note written by Hilary Burrage.
The note, dated 28 January 2020 read:
“Apologies as ever for the collective approach (and for any duplication) – this email is only to those I am pretty sure have a serious interest in issues around female genital mutilation (FGM). I am hoping that you might consider adding your name to the attached Action:FGM Manifesto (which I had a hand in writing and) which I hope reflects the views of most of us.
The intention is to draw attention, via the support of well-known activists and influencers such as yourselves, to the need to up support at the highest level for work to eradicate FGM in the UK, and of course beyond. We feel that the forthcoming International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM, 6 February, is a good opportunity to bring such a focus to bear.
If you feel able to endorse our Manifesto, perhaps you could let me know a.s.a.p., and tell me in what way you would like to be described on the Manifesto? And if you think of other activists and influencers who might also support us, perhaps you could please let me know soon how best to contact them as well?
Many thanks and very best wishes,
My attention was later drawn to a Tweet from @HilaryBurrage. Because I do not follow her on Twitter, I hadn’t see her response.
It said: “You have published a DRAFT of our manifesto, which is subject to copyright, has not yet been published by us + which you do NOT have the right to publish. Please remove it immediately or we will have no recourse but to seek legal action against you.”
Others like @SimonPopeDK had responded by tweeting: ‘No mention of your manifesto being a draft on your pinned twitter inviting people to get a copy. A manifesto is by definition public so it’s very difficult to understand why you should think you have any recourse in the law. Manifestos are intended to be disseminated.’
Professor Burrage’s response was not to engage or explain but to block him. This sadly reflects how many in the FGM industry operate, preferring to censor than engage. Some have even demonstrated their own particular brand of zero tolerance over the years by preventing or trying to prevent me and others from attending FGM related events and discussions.
It’s good to see that the Royal College of General Practitioners have also taken issue with a specific manifesto recommendation, saying there was “no evidence” that mandatory screening of women and girls for female genital mutilation would help “eradicate this horrific crime”. They warned that doctors should not be asked to check women for genital mutilation as it might deter them from seeking medical advice.
Today @ActionFGM plan to deliver the manifesto and call to action to Downing Street. It will be interesting to see what changes, if any, have been wrought by the publicity.
Full, frank and open discussions about FGM are badly needed. The Hidden Voices UK ‘Zero Tolerance for FGM?’ event on 8 February is a notable exception and one I hope open-minded readers will attend.
Update 09 Feb 2020.
The published manifesto was delivered to Downing Street on 6 Feb 2020 by representatives of Action:FGM – Alexander Adams, Kate Adams, Sarian Karim-Kamara, Hoda Ali, Sharon Raymond and Hilary Burrage. It can be accessed here.
An update of ‘Critique of manifesto to end FGM in the UK by 2030’ can be accessed here.
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.