All of my friends and family will tell you, I’m a bit ‘odd’. I have a tolerance for things that are a little bit ick, a little bit bloody or gruesome and the ability to talk about things that make most people gag at the dinner table. But as anyone who knows any nurse, it’s really not all that odd.
What I can’t take, however, is the idea of people in pain and suffering, even more so when that pain and suffering is something we can prevent. The last year, through the privilege of being a nurse, has brought this most amazing woman and the organisation 28 Too Many, into my life. And with that, I gained an insight into the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM, also known as female cutting or female circumcision) that stretches far beyond just thinking that it’s an awful thing that happens in other places, far, far away from here.
I’ve watched my friend deliver training to health professionals, with photographs I could never share here, discussing the resulting infertility, the chronic urine infections, the gynaecological problems, the skin problems associated with scarring and the life threatening issues that can arise for survivors of FGM in childbirth. And that’s before we even consider the psychological fall out. Whilst I once thought that FGM is something that happens mostly in Africa, a 2015 report by City University estimated 137,000 women living in the UK have some form of FGM. In the UK, it is illegal, and anyone found to be taking a child out of the UK for FGM will face up to 14 years in prison. Suspicion of FGM by health care services, schools or social services triggers child safe guarding procedures. It is defined by the CPS as an act of child abuse. With this in mind, why did Sky News think it appropriate to show the procedures around this act, an act illegal in this country, on national television?
Leading anti-female genital mutilation campaigners based in the UK, including Leyla Hussain, Hibo Wardere and Janet Fyle, contacted Sky News asking that they did not show this piece, stating that the piece would be “harmful and stigmatising and could cause a lot of damage to the survivors of FGM.” Yet Sky News still went ahead with the piece. In so many ways this decision by Sky News is wrong and in very poor taste. Whilst they may have travelled to Somalia, a country where FGM is not yet illegal, I seriously question the value of this piece. I am not against discussing FGM in public spheres at all – the more we can the better. But what I am against, however, is the filming of a 7 year old child from Somalia described as being “the optimum age” because that way she’s less likely to question the procedure. I am against the re-enactment of holding a child down for this procedure for our viewing pleasure, and children being asked questions, under the watchful eye of adults about their thoughts on the procedure. Where’s the consent? Where’s the dignity? I cannot remember any time that an act of child abuse committed in British society was ever recorded like this. It also leaves one to consider whether issues surrounding male genitalia could be covered this way, without a second thought. Whilst we must fight FGM at every opportunity, this is not the way. Instead of focusing on the ‘shock doc’ value of capturing the procedure, lets focus our energies at the long held attitudes that allow for this barbaric practice to continue, at the organisations that are letting communities continue with this and at challenging the poverty and inequality of opportunity and education that still blights women in many parts of the world into thinking marriage is their only life choice. Shame on you Sky News.
If you need support and advice regarding female genital mutilation, please contact The Dahlia Project.