Adwoa Kwateng-Kluvitse from the organisation Forward received a standing ovation when she addressed UNISON’s women’s conference in Brighton today.
The organisation started working on female genital mutilation (FGM) in 1983 and aims for a world where women and girls can live in dignity.
FGM is a precursor to child marriage, which is a precursor to obstetric fistula (where the bladder, vagina and rectum are damaged during labour resulting in leaking of urine and faeces into the vagina) which in turn leads to ostracisation and loss of opportunity.
All are a fundamental attack on a woman or girl’s human rights.
Ms Kwateng-Kluvitse explained: “We don’t know exactly how many women and girls have been affected but estimates show that over 200,000,000 women and girls in over 30 countries have been subjected to FGM.”
She drew a comparison with ebola, 11,000 had died from the disease, and: “Look at the energy and money that was galvanised. But Because FGM is seen as a niche issue, an African women’s issue, there isn’t that much interest.”
But, she said, “It’s not only an African issue,” and as more becomes known about it, “it may not even predominantly be an African issue.”
Indeed, 137,000 women and girls living in the UK have already undergone FGM.
In 2015 the government brought in many legislative changes related to FGM including mandatory reporting and mandatory recording.
All regulated healthcare, education and social care professionals must now report all known cases of FGM of anyone under the age of 18 to the police.
Forward supports prosecution, but, Ms Kwateng-Kluvitse said: “Legislation has many purposes, the first is to prevent, then to protect, then to prosecute, then to punish. Let’s focus on how we can protect girls from FGM. At Forward we believe if we get to the point of prosecuting we have messed up as it means a little girl has been harmed for life.”
She urged UNISON members who came across FGM in their work: “Do not be paralysed by labels like racism, imperialism, colonialism, neo-colonialism, neo-imperialism and islamophobia. Failure to protect a little girl from FGM is racist.”