Yesterday's Observer carried a disturbing report about female genital mutilation (FGM). According to medical professionals up to 2,000 British school girls could be subjected to it over the summer months. In the majority of the cases FGM is carried out abroad. The practice is common in parts of Africa and the Middle East. The young girls think they are just going to visit family relations unaware of what is in store for them.
FGM is a cultural practice and has no foundation in religion. It is instead rooted in patriarchal desires to control female sexuality. It is also, as the video accompanying the Observer's report highlights, deeply distressing for the girls involved. They have part or all of the clitoris cut off, usually without anaesthetic. Their vagina is sown up and the legs bound together for 6 to 8 weeks while the wound heals. Who knows how long it takes for the psychological damage to be overcome?
Since 1985 it has been illegal to preform FGM or aid and abet it, though no one has ever been prosecuted for so doing. One of the reasons for this is ignorance among the communities where this is most common. Invariably it is the mothers and aunties who sanction this abuse of daughters and nieces because it is an accepted cultural norm. Invariably it has happened to them and their mothers before them.
However just because something is culturally acceptable does not make it right. FMG is gross violation of young girls. We need more active campaigning and education to rid it from the communities most affected. But that will only go so far. It's when people start getting jail sentences for performing, aiding or abetting FMG that the message will really start to get through.