25 Jul Evening Standard : FGM: Parents who allow girls to be cut must face full force of law, hearing told
Original Article: Evening Standard
Parents who allow their daughters to be mutilated must be prosecuted with no fear of upsetting their communities, a hearing has been told.
Survivors of female genital mutilation, MEPs, campaigners and medical experts gathered at the European Parliament for the first high-profile hearing into FGM.
They demanded that the full force of the law be brought down on parents or “cutters” found to have mutilated children.
Efua Dorkenoo, of Equality Now, said people are no longer content to campaign quietly against FGM because despite decades of work, girls in the UK are still being cut.
She said: “No longer can we say we don’t want to upset anyone.” Calling for the first prosecution to brought in Britain, she said: “We don’t think civil society groups having conversations here and there is enough to stop FGM.”
The hearing was called by London MEP Marina Yannakoudakis at the European Parliament in Brussels. It was the first gathering to draw together such a range of experts from across the world.
At the meetings, campaigners called for FGM to be recognised as child abuse. They said education and other preventive measures should be used, but that prosecution was also needed.
Ms Dorkenoo said: “Of course prevention must be central — but prosecution is the flipside of that same coin. Because in many cases if a parent or guardian feels they can get away with it, they will.”
FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985 but so far no one has been prosecuted for it. The situation is similar in every other European country apart from France.
Ms Dorkenoo said that until now women have been afraid to speak out because of “fear, intimidation, stigma, ostracisation”, adding: “As long as parents and guardians feel there is no pressure to let go [of FGM] they will not give up.
“It’s not to do totally with lack of education or ignorance. It is a gender control power issue.”
The meeting heard that women in Britain who are under pressure from their relatives to cut their daughters are at the forefront of the fight for a prosecution.
Ms Dorkenoo said: “Women in communities are requesting for the Government to implement the law. They feel prosecution will empower them to resist some of the pressures.”
If these women could tell their families they would end up in prison if their daughters were cut, they would be able to refuse more easily, she said.
Dr Marlene Temmerman, director of reproductive health and research at the World Health Organisation, called for the number of women who have undergone FGM to be counted properly. It is believed that 500,000 women in Europe have had FGM but the figure is an estimate.
‘I was fighting, screaming … I have never felt so much pain’
Alimatu Dimonekene, 44, was one of the FGM survivors who attended the hearing in Brussels. Now a homelessness officer in Haringey, she was forced to have FGM in her native Sierra Leone at the age of 16.
She has told her story for the first time in the hope it will stop other girls from going through the same thing. She said: “I went to visit my grandmother but she was not there to greet me which was strange. There was food and more people than usual. I didn’t realise what was going on.
“My aunt came in and I thought she was coming to sit down but she suddenly launched at me. My other aunts behind me pulled me down. I had a really nice dress on and they started pulling it and I could hear ripping. I was really scared and struggling. As I lay on the floor I was stripped of everything.
“I could hear the traditional screams of the cutter and saw a glimpse of her face, which has stayed with me. I was fighting and screaming. My aunts were holding my legs wide and this woman launched at me, holding a filthy cloth in her hand with her instruments.
“I have never felt so much pain in my entire life. I saw my mother trying to rescue me but they wouldn’t let her through.
“I always felt I was a strong person but this was something I couldn’t fight. Now I have good days and bad days. I wanted to explore the world and become something but FGM became me.”