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INTERNATIONAL DAY OF ZERO TOLERANCE FOR FGM

By Muna Hassan from Bristol, UK

The Legacy Award recipient Muna, has been educating people about female genital mutilation since she was 14 years old after realising some of her friends and classmates had been subjected to some form of the practise.

Her work on FGM has contributed to UK policy change, with Muna giving evidence to the Home Office Select Committee and working with Ministers in Public Health to ensure that all schools include FGM in their safeguarding policies to help girls who are at risk.

6 February 2020

Female Genital Mutilation is the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia for non-medical reasons. It’s sometimes known as “cutting” and is usually carried out on girls who can be as young as two years old. FGM is often one of those topics most people tend to shy away from — it involves reaching into cultural cul-de-sacs that can be uncomfortable for many; talking about vulvas and vaginas.

Though prevalence is higher in Africa and Asia, what a lot of people don’t know is that FGM happens all around the world – including here in the UK. An estimated 200 million girls and women in the world today have had some form of FGM, and last year the UK had its first ever conviction for FGM, since the law was first introduced in 1985. The unfortunate reality is that anyone who knows women and girls from FGM-affected communities will know girls who have been mutilated.

Considering FGM is a human’s rights violation, it still surprises many that it still happens. For women and girls who have experienced FGM, it is often incredibly painful and traumatic and something to never discuss. What has always surprised me the most is the silence that has been cloaked around FGM. But whether we like to hear it or not, that silence made everyone complicit in letting the practice carry on.

Muna receives her Legacy Award from Earl Spencer, November 2019.

And that’s what had driven me to co-found Integrate UK and campaign against FGM and other forms of gender-based abuse for over ten years now. Integrate UK is a youth-led charity that seeks to educate and empower young people across the country on issues they care about. Our charity ethos is to empower young people, so they can take an active role in transforming the society we live in for the better.

In 2010, I and other young women had decided to create a docu-drama called ‘Why?’. It was featured on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, and we were incredibly proud and excited that all those hours spent after school had paid off!  But the excitement did not last for long, and it was then that we experienced our first big backlash. Our school Principal had a call from the police informing him that 75 people were on the way to the school to complain and protest about our work. How could he possibly let young women talk about Vulvas?!

Our Principal resigned the next year… but we were even more determined!

“Our charity ethos is to empower young people, so they can take an active role in transforming the society we live in for the better.”

We made films, documentaries, theatre productions and music videos (#MyClitoris). We went from being only four girls to hundreds of young people! And our work evolved too. We created media resources to teach in schools so young people could have a safe space to discuss issues that affected them. We created national campaigns for politicians to change legislations and not only on FGM. We wanted a societal change that supported women who were affected by violence, but also a society that prevented that violence.

I have been fortunate enough to see the changes that we were asking for when we first started. FGM is now discussed more openly. Women and girls have access to specialist clinics that can support them. There’s a mandatory duty to report and record incidents of FGM. Even though there is much more we need to do to raise awareness and change in legislation, on this International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, I want to celebrate the work that has been done and look forward to the decade in which we will end FGM.

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