This ‘significant NCYW moment’ was the first ever 18+ event, organised by NCYW Standing Committee member, Charlotte Kitchen. It took place at Stephenson College, University of Durham, Stockton Campus on 29 April 2015. The choice of venue ensured that the audience was an encouraging mix of University students and staff, other young people, and members of NCW Darlington Branch. This article is written by Wendy North, VP Policy.
The theme of the Seminar had been chosen because of the need among students and generally for a better understanding of FGM in all its aspects. The two speakers were Gloria Mosha (FGM specialist, from The Angelou Centre, Newcastle upon Tyne) and Cris McCurley (Lawyer specialising in International law, Human rights and family law).
Gloria pointed out that FGM, in its various forms – which she outlined – had both physical and psychological consequences which were often severe. She described the practice as ‘a complex social norm’ and identified the reasons for its persistence as cultural, and as concerning social identity at both family and wider community levels. She saw creating an atmosphere where dialogue could take place as essential to tackling the problem.
Cris spoke of FGM in the context of International Family Law, which could also involve other issues, such as trafficking, child marriage, and honour killing. She pointed out that the UK Government had been slow to accept its responsibilities in these areas, all of which had been condemned at the 2014 Girl Summit (which, incidentally, had been attended by NCW members). Hence, while FGM is contrary to the Human Rights Act in the UK, there could be barriers to dealing with it, such as post-colonial guilt, fear of seeming racist, of driving the issue underground, and lack of expertise over options for intervention. Tellingly, in a reference to the amendment of the FGM Act (1985) in 2003, she pointed out that in the lapse of time since then there had not been a single conviction in the UK, and that although there had been a recent prosecution, this had fallen through. As for the process of dealing with victims of FGM, she emphasised a multi-agency approach to the issue, including working together with the charity FORWARD and with the Angelou Centre.
All told these two excellent speakers ensured that all members of the audience were provided with information and food for thought. A key overall point that emerged was the social and cultural complexity entailed in the practice of FGM. This ensures that while those of us unused to the practice will see it as a grotesque abuse of a girl child, others, for whom it is culturally embedded, will see it instead as a desirable social norm, a means to acceptability and respect in the society that shapes their world.
NCW has long campaigned for the abolition of FGM and supports the legislation now in place on this issue. Successful prosecutions would confirm the stance in this country on FGM and would send out a clear message. At the same time NCW believes that it is equally important that there is a focused programme of education, which needs to reach the communities involved, those who come into contact with girls and women experiencing problems as a result of FGM (eg hospital staff), and children in schools where girls may be vulnerable to this practice. NCW has held seminars and produced reports and campaigned and will continue to work with other organisations to further our aims. This seminar was an important milestone in generating better understanding of the issues and it is also significant that this was the first such seminar addressed primarily to the 18+ age group; it was warmly supported by NCW members.