Skip to content

Progress Towards Tackling FGM In The UK Is Severely Compromised By Brexit

February 6, 2019

Today (6 February) is the annual Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, a day when people around the world declare once again their commitment to stopping this cruel traditional practice. The UK has been amongst those leading the way in FGM eradication, but sadly there is almost no aspect of British life on which Brexit – leaving the European Union – would not impinge.
This post, written for the Analysis pages of The UK in a Changing World website, examines some serious difficulties which may arise for UK-led work to end FGM, if Brexit goes forward.

Progress towards tackling FGM in the UK is severely compromised by Brexit

Some people tell it as it is.  Amongst those who speak straightforwardly is Helena Kennedy QC, who says of the minority of her legal colleagues who in the EU referendum supported Leave, “The mad Brexiters … almost invariably … don’t like homosexuals, they don’t like foreigners and they hate human rights.”

Others’ concerns about the UK’s failure in the Brexit negotiations to address issues like gender and the needs of vulnerable people, both in Britain and across Europe, have however become pressing, but remain put aside. Yet research shows significant gender (and age) differences in voting on Brexit: 61% of males aged 18 to 24 years voted for the UK to remain within the EU, whilst an equal 61% of males in the 50 to 64 age brackets supported Leave. But there again, women between the ages of 18 and 24 voted 80% for Remain.

Several subsequent studies have likewise shown the gendered differences in perceptions and potential impact of Brexit.  These range across the engagement (or otherwise) of women and men in the politics of Leave, the likely direct economic consequences for women and men, and concerns about gender equality and human rights.

More recent analysis of Brexit has become framed for some as a ‘crisis’ of masculinity.  But ‘women and children’s’ issues – in reality wider matters of fundamental human rights – have, with a few honourable exceptions (eg the work of MEPs Richard Corbett, Mary Honeyball and Julie Ward) been largely ignored in the corridors of power.  The noise is from men, about ‘male’ concerns, whether the (mostly older, mostly white) men in question are northern working class or, equally importantly, comfortable chaps ensconced in the shires.

Few such people worry about protecting the most vulnerable in our communities: those subject to human trafficking, those experiencing domestic violence, those made to undergo child, early or forced ‘marriage’ (CEFM) and those under threat of harmful traditional practices (HTPs) such as female genital mutilation (FGM).  Most of these cruelties arise from economic patriarchy, inflicted to increase the power of men over girls and women. This violence against women and girls (VAWG) and gendered disadvantage knows no national boundaries – yet even EU studies courses rarely adopt a gendered framework.

Brexit would take the UK out of various international legal frameworks and protective networks across Europe intended to reduce the risk of damage to vulnerable, often female, people: those mentioned above as well as refugees, migrants and others at risk of economic exploitation and violence of many sorts.

Concerns about side-lining issues such as FGM are not however only around formal EU frameworks.

Amongst other matters which have not been properly acknowledged are

These vital matters have been cast aside whilst the ‘blokes Brexit’ staggers on; but they will not go away.  Such problems will re-emerge and cost the UK dearly if they are ignored now.  And the omens are not good: as yet the UK Government has not even ratified the 2011 Council of Europe (NB not European Union) Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.

Progress in the UK and beyond towards FGM and wider VAWG eradication is severely compromised by Brexit. Large numbers of Leave supporters favour capital punishment, are hostile to feminism as they understand it and, as Helena Kennedy reminds us, oppose human rights.  They are unlikely to be vexed about gendered violence.

The first UK conviction for FGM has just been secured, but the fall-out from ignoring that crime in future would be enormous, both for those most vulnerable to crimes such as FGM, and to British society as a whole.

I am grateful to many people for advice on various aspects of this post, amongst them: Prof Adriana Kaplan Marcusan, Julie Ward MEP, Juman Kubba, Leethen Bartholomew, Neelam Sarkaria, Sarah Champion MP, Sarbjit Ganger, Vivienne Hayes and Vicky Pryce.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Read more about FGM and Brexit

Read more here about Human Rights and Democracy

Read more about Zero Tolerance for FGM


Your Comments on this topic are welcome.  
Please post them in the box which follows these announcements…..

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Books by Hilary Burrage on female genital mutilation

18.04.12 FGM books together IMG_3336 (3).JPG

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 email:

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.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: