It’s funny the things that catch one’s attention. There I was doing some important research or as I call it skiving over at Pickled Politics during a quiet moment in work when my eye alighted on this story about the Swedish integration and equality minister's proposals for increasing immigrant integration.
The proposals all seem reasonable enough with the exception of the first which is compulsory checks on all girls to look for evidence of FGM. I don’t wish to over old ground again but basically the issue of forced vaginal examination has split more or less along gender lines. The chaps taking the view that it is fine to subject ALL females to mass screening for abuses committed by a tiny minority and the women remembering their last smear test and seeing the flaw in the plan. You can follow the debate here. Be warned if another man advocates the mass screening of girls vaginas I will go postal. Oh and if this does become law in Sweden I urge all girls to refuse to comply. Similarly I urge anyone at risk of FGM to grass their parents up. Honestly it will be less painful.
Anyway as a result I’ve spent the day pondering female genital mutilation. Naturally my first reaction is ARRRGH! Whilst I prefer to avoid sticking my beak into the neighbours business believing it to be counterproductive, a recent ruling by The House of Lords accepts the threat of FGM as grounds for asylum which gives the UK a legitimate interest in helping to stamp out the practice. In addition to which many of the countries where this practice is prevalent are recipients of UK foreign aid. FGM causes numerous health problems which arguably divert precious resources away from tacking other less avoidable illnesses. It is also possible that FGM assists the spread of HIV. Furthermore a recent report in the Times indicates that some African families are clubbing together to bring someone in to the UK to carry out the gruesome procedure. See I’m not nosy.
For those with strong stomachs a full explanation of what FGM involves, different types etc can be found here. The reasons given for it vary considerably and can also be found at the previous link. One common feature is that it seems to be carried out pretty much by women. Germaine Greer notes in The Whole Woman that Ethiopian men often don’t seem to be aware whether their wives have undergone the procedure or not suggesting that the notion that it is done to
please men is an oversimplification. She also notes that FGM has proved resistant to over fifty years of criminalisation and propaganda, indicating that ending it is going to be a difficult process.
One of the many problems caused by FGM are complications and even the death (mother and/ or child) during childbirth. It may be that in cultures where FGM are widespread such deaths are not considered to be directly linked to the practice. One productive means of eradicating FGM may be to make this information widely known in terms easy for ordinary people to grasp. If the price of FGM is potentially infertility or the death of children it may seem like a less attractive prospect. More so in cultures where fertility is prized.
I doubt a campaign on moral grounds is likely to be terribly effective. One only has to imagine the reception a group of Africans turning up in the UK and demanding we take up FGM to see the pitfalls with that approach. I suspect focusing on the practical problems caused by FGM is pretty much the only form of education that stands any chance of success. I should also stress that there are many native women who campaign against the practice in countries where it is carried out. In my view any campaign should be led by them to avoid a backlash against perceived western interference.
To return to the UK. It would be interesting to note how prevalent FGM is amongst longer established immigrants or if it mainly concentrated in new immigrant communities. In the case of new immigrants I see no harm in advising them that FGM is a serious crime in the UK and if they caught either carrying it out or requesting it be carried out will result in imprisonment followed by immediate deportation. It should also be possible for it to be treated the same as any other form of child abuse, in the sense that where doctors find evidence to suggest it has taken place, perhaps during treatment for another health problem, the police and social services should be notified. As with domestic violence not every investigation will lead to a prosecution but a few people at the very least being questioned sends out a clear message.
Greater awareness of the problem amongst teachers, social workers and other professionals is likely to be helpful. One family referred to in this Times article came to the attention of the police after their daughter was overheard talking about going home for a celebration of becoming a woman. The family concerned were of the impression that this was legal if not carried out in the UK. The police set them straight and thankfully the girl was spared the ordeal.
I do not claim to have all the answers or any expertise in the subject, the above only reflects the thoughts I have had following the debate at Pickled Politics. What I do remain certain and utterly convinced of is that the mass screening of girls for evidence of FGM is an unacceptable infringement of their rights and would inevitably lead to racism and resentment towards the groups for whose benefit the screening is being carried out. In fact if I were a member of the BNP I'd be on my knees praying mass screening for FGM was introduced in the UK. I can just see the leaflets now.