A school in the East end of London has started teaching young people on the prevention of female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage.
“Education to young people on female genital mutilation and forced marriage is hugely important and invaluable. It is not just about legalization and having laws it’s about prevention and getting to children as young as possible and explaining to them that this could happen to you,” Arifa Nasim, educator and campaigner against forced marriage, told Al Arabiya News.
This week marked the start of a series of talks to young children at Frederick Bremer School in London on FGM and forced marriage.
Female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as female circumcision or female genital cutting, is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons.”
FGM is practiced in many countries across the globe and is practiced by some Arab, South-East Asian and African communities.
The WHO have separated FGM into three categories; category one is the most common, the clitoris is held between the thumb and index finger, pulled and amputated with a blade. Category two the clitoris is removed but the vaginal lips may also be partially or totally removed. Category one and two are the most common types of FGM. The final category, category three is the most extensive; it involves complete removal of the clitoris, vaginal lips, also the two rounded outer folds that lie on either side of the vaginal opening are removed.
The consequences of FGM are huge, causing a life time of infection, pain and potential death to those who have it.
The Home Office, have said that there are 66,000 women in the UK who have had FGM and 24,000 young girls at risk.
With primary and secondary school children being most at risk of being sent abroad by their parents to “be cut” the aim of many campaigners and activist is to educate as many teachers and children on the dangers of FGM and how to spot a child who may be at risk.
Hibo Wardere, a campaigner from London who underwent FGM at the age of six years old in her native country of Somalia, believes that educating children on the topic of FGM will cause change and hopefully encourage people to take on the issue of FGM and force marriage.
“Most teachers and some children do not know about FGM and the dangers of this so-called cultural practice. I am teaching in various primary and secondary schools telling them about FGM. There are so many diverse cultures in London schools, large Muslim, Arab and Southeast Asian communities who may still practice FGM. Educating children on this practice encourages them to speak out against a practice that is wrong,” said Hibo.
Hibo believes that this cycle of abuse must be ended and children are the ones to help stop this. Educating them on where they can seek help and giving them the knowledge on what to do if they believe a friend is at risk of FGM or if they themselves are facing the prospect of being sent abroad will no doubt in her opinion be the catalyst for eradicating this dangerous practice.
“Teaching 13 and 14 year olds on FGM is powerful, especially if the girl has not undergone FGM but is about to be sent abroad to have it done, educating them on this practice could actually safe their life.”
Jenny Smith, the head teacher of Frederick Bremer School in London, decided to start the talks after she saw the activism in Bristol by a young campaigner named Fahma Mohammed who has challenged FGM.
“Issues like FGM and forced marriage are issues that everyone in this local community knows are there but they are not aware of the warning signs or what to do. It’s important the people feel empowered to tackle these issues which are sometimes seen as culturally sensitive issues and we are called out as being offensive if we try to name them. But we must challenge them,” Smith said to Al Arabiya News.
Power of social media
Smith believes that raising awareness through practical methods such as social media is the way forward. Also educating children will certainly allow them to question their elders and in turn put those at risk in touch with local campaigners such as Hibo.
“We need to set up networks so that young people who can support and empower one another in this There are young people in the system who are expecting to have equality and find these issues repugnant and they challenge their elders and say why are you saying this is so culturally acceptable.”
Arifa Nasim, a campaigner against forced marriage, thinks that men also have a strong role to play in the prevention of FGM and forced marriage.
“There is a difference between forced and arranged marriage. In forced marriage you have no choice. Men have a role to play, it is not just boys that can be potential victims but they become the brothers and fathers and play a huge role in the lives of their daughters who could be forced into marriage.”
Nasim believes men need to stop colluding with this idea of their honor being affected if the daughter doesn’t do what they want them to do. If men stop endorsing it women would stop doing it, she believes. If men stop believing they can control a woman’s sexual desire and guard her, things can change, she added.