Female genital mutilation (FGM) has been brought into the media spotlight more in recent years. BBC3 featured a programme for Comic Relief to raise awareness about FGM, Stop Cutting Our Girls.
Sometimes trivalised to ‘female circumcision’, FGM is an ordeal 140 million women and girls alive today have been through. In 2012, the United Nations voted for FGM to be eradicated throughout the world. Undeterred by this, it is still practiced in 28 countries in Africa and in the Middle East. Girls under the age of 15 are particularly at risk, as they are cut before being married to men more than three times their age. Communities and families want their girls to have FGM, as they will fetch a higher dowry when they’re married. There is no medical benefit to FGM, although it is believed that stopping girls feeling pleasure from sex will prevent promiscuity. However, in the west it is seen as a violation of the human rights of women and girls.
The programme began by speaking to survivors of FGM in the UK. The problem, it is revealed, is not as far from home as we would like to believe; girls in this country, as well as abroad, have to live with the ramifications of FGM. The presenter, Zawe Ashton, managed to form relationships with the girls she met without taking the focus away from their stories. An interview with Nimco Ali, a campaigner and one of the first British survivors to speak out about her experience, gave an insight into the backlash survivors face if they speak out.
Filming of FGM workshops run by students in secondary schools showed how sex education does not teach students about the specific parts of the vagina, and how hard it can be for young people to discuss FGM. Information about the different types of FGM and the serious medical risks, including infertility, was clearly conveyed by following the journey of a survivor. Her journey ended at the gynecologist, who unveiled the stark realities of life after FGM.
Zawe Ashton traveled to Kenya to meet a ‘cutter’ so successful that parents from all over Britain bring their children to her. Using paper to show the cuts she inflicts with blunt scissors showed that FGM is nothing short of barbaric. In Narok, 95 per cent of girls in the Masai tribes have FGM, but it is also home to the most famous FGM survivor, campaigner Agnes Pareyio. Agnes runs a rescue centre, supported by Comic Relief, for girls who escape cutting and forced marriages. Hearing the girls’ stories highlights how important centres like these are in their efforts to look after frightened girls and reconcile them with their families.
The programme has the desired outcome; you want to donate money to help protect the girls, even though this message isn’t drummed into you throughout the entire show in the usual Comic Relief style. This is an honest and no holds barred account of the cutting.