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Ending Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Requires Support For Community Activists

July 18, 2017

Today I published a piece in the Huffington Post entitled The ‘Cuts’ And ‘Cutting’ – And So Female Genital Mutilation Continues In The UK.  The eradication of FGM is critically dependent not only on the skills and leverage of the leading organisations in the field, but also on the goodwill and support of activists in their communities.  Often these activists report that their work is not resourced and that they are therefore unable to deliver the #EndFGM message as they would wish – a matter of especial importance when ‘vacation cutting’ is about to start.

Here is what I wrote:

The ‘cuts’ and ‘cutting’. Both should be bothering us Brits a lot right now.

‘Cuts’, of course, are austerity.

And ‘cutting’ is what unsuspecting little girls will experience over the coming summer break, when they are taken to locations – probably in the country of origin/ heritage of their parents, but perhaps somewhere secret on UK soil – to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM).

No money?

The UK is the sixth most prosperous nation in the world, but whilst billions may be available for matters of immediate political convenience, the NHS, education and many other public services are feeling the pinch. Funding for bedrock community provisions is seriously stretched.

These two facts of contemporary life – that ‘the cuts’ hurt our communities, and that FGM is one of the cruellest, most horrific acts which could be visited upon a child – are inevitably connected.

Austerity causes poverty, and poverty restricts opportunity, which leaves women and girls ever more vulnerable to gender-based harm. Anyone who’s undergone FGM is less likely to have the health and educational opportunities to enjoy well-being in maturity.

Tragically, cuts may themselves enable ‘cutting’

July is a peak month for small girls to be taken for ‘vacation cutting’ – a time when, like the other peak times of Christmas and Easter, there will be weeks of school holiday and no questions asked about where children are or what’s happening to them.

And it’s also when action to stop FGM, by border agencies, the police, teachers and community activists, is on highest alert.

Often community campaigns comprise in reality just a few people, perhaps a single individual, doing what they feel they must to consign FGM to history.

But all around Britain there are voices quietly worrying that funds to support community based on-the-ground campaigns against FGM are drying up. There is no money to pay activists’ expenses, let alone a fee for their efforts.

Different roles for different people

The larger EndFGM organisations have structures and technical skills to obtain, manage and ultimately account for financial awards, but they must rely on appointed professional staff, few of whom have direct connection with the communities in which FGM still occurs.

Of course the bigger organisations have a critical role to play. They can analyse and share prevalence data, develop the reference materials and teaching resources medical, educational, legal and other professionals need to take forward their subject-specific agendas, and prod the wider public into awareness of this grim and harmful traditional practice.

But, EndFGM messages are harder to deliver on the ground when those so tasked are not themselves trusted members of the relevant community.

This mis-match has unintended consequences

People who work within their own communities find themselves un-resourced and limited in what they can do. Unsurprisingly, they become aggrieved about this lack of support.

It’s almost impossible to campaign against FGM without any funds, but further, as several narrators in my book Female Mutilation point out, everyone in their community knows when local activists are not funded, and this itself becomes ‘evidence’ the authorities don’t attach much importance to the EndFGM message.

Accountability – national leaders pass the buck

Issues of propriety and governance about which groups of people receive formal funding to stop FGM are inevitable but not insurmountable.

Both local government and public health services are under serious threat, but they are ideally placed to manage on-the-ground FGM campaigns. These locally grounded organisations reach into the highest levels of national policy whilst also having excellent locality-specific intelligence, fully equipped to administer small funds for community action.

What’s missing is political will at the pinnacle of government to determine strategies around FGM. ‘Multi-agency’ arrangements alone won’t succeed.

Politicians at the top must take courage to determine very clearly how the UK’s national bodies, the larger NGOs and the irreplaceable individuals and tiny groups at local level will share resourcing and responsibility to make FGM history.

Holidays, not nightmares

As Qamar Naseem of Blue Veins in Pakistan reports,

‘young British girls … pack their best clothes and favourite treasures, excited at the thought of a long visit to see their relatives…. These little girls don’t know that, when they arrive, the plan is for them to undergo female genital mutilation.’

EndFGM community activists in our communities must have support. They are uniquely placed to insist, ‘no more’.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Books by Hilary Burrage on female genital mutilation

Eradicating Female Genital Mutilation: A UK Perspective (Hilary Burrage, Ashgate / Routledge 2015).   Full contents and reviews   HERE.

FEMALE MUTILATION: The truth behind the horrifying global practice of female genital mutilation  (Hilary Burrage, New Holland Publishers 2016).   Full contents and reviews   HERE.


There is a free FGM hotline for anyone in the UK: 0800 028 3550, or

Details of NHS Specialist Services for FGM here.

More info and posts on FGM here.

Activists, service providers and researchers may like to join the LinkedIn group Female Genital Mutilation (FGM): Information, reports and research, which has several hundred members from around the world.

The (free) #NoFGM Daily News carries reports of all items shared on Twitter that day about FGM – brings many organisations and developments into focus.

Also available to follow at no cost or obligation is the #NoFGM_USA Daily News.

Twitter accounts:          @NoFGM_UK  @NoFGMBookUK @FemaleMutlnBook  @FGMStatement  @NoFGM_USA @NoFGM_Kenya  @NoFGM_France  @GuardianEndFGM [tag for all: #NoFGM] and @StopMGM.

Facebook page: #NoFGM – a crime against humanity

Email contact: via Hilary


[NB The Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children, which has a primary focus on FGM, is clear that in formal discourse any term other than ‘mutilation’ concedes damagingly to the cultural relativists – though the terms employed may of necessity vary in informal discussion with those who by tradition use alternative vocabulary. See the Feminist Statement on the Naming and Abolition of Female Genital Mutilation,  The Bamako Declaration: Female Genital Mutilation Terminology and the debate about Anthr/Apologists on this website.]


This article concerns approaches to the eradication specifically of FGM.  I am also categorically opposed to MGM, but that is not the focus of this particular piece.

Anyone wishing to offer additional comment on more general considerations around infant and juvenile genital mutilation is asked please to do so via these relevant dedicated threads.

Discussion of the general issues re M/FGM will not be published unless they are posted on these dedicated pages. Thanks.

One Comment leave one →
  1. July 26, 2017 04:46

    Reblogged this on UnCut/Voices Press and commented:
    Hilary’s support of funding for smaller NGOs, generally more intimately linked to practicing communities than many larger ones, is timely and crucial. With me, Hilary penned the AfterWords to UnCUT/VOICES’ latest book, Kameel Ahmady’s In the Name of Tradition. Female Genital Mutilation in Iran.

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