Europe needs a rapid response to FGM in order to create a society where all forms of violence against women are unacceptable - says Dr Christine Loudes
Summer is the season of laidback holidays and pleasurable family time for most, but for some young girls this vacation is a turning point as they are expected to undergo a cut that can leave them scarred for life. Female genital mutilation is a centuries-old practice that continues today despite its recognition as a human rights violation. In the United Kingdom alone, up to 2,000 schoolgirls are expected to be subjected to FGM during the holiday season. Overall in Europe, an estimated 500,000 girls and women live with the physical and psychological after-effects that include infections, trauma and complications during childbirth.
Earlier this month, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling for joint action to combat violence against women and adequate funding to reflect the prioritisation of this human rights concern. But the European Commission promised a strategy to address this violence in 2010. While the European Union acknowledges the need to end FGM, promises have not been followed by action. So how can we end this deeply entrenched practice?
In the EU, 15 member states have criminalised the practice of FGM. Yet they have been unsuccessful in fully combating it. Preventing FGM will require long term engagement of the families and communities for whom it is an essential rite of passage that allows their daughters to become part of society. In addition, it requires a holistic action plan that includes healthcare provision for those suffering from its consequences and culturally appropriate protection measures for girls at immediate risk.
Despite the shortcomings, there are promising practices that provide hope. In Britain, the London Metropolitan Police is educating parents about the health and legal implications of FGM while simultaneously empowering children at risk for the practice. It has also produced guidance to investigations. Belgium has recently developed guidance for all professionals that may be confronted with FGM – whether asylum officers, doctors or social workers. Cultural mediators in a health clinic for migrants in Malta are improving communication between doctors and patients and raising the issue in a safe space. An action plan that collates these promising practices across Europe could help us meet the promises to these women and girls.
One such holistic approach that can guide governments in developing an action plan is that of the Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women. This is the first legally binding instrument in the world creating a comprehensive legal framework to prevent violence, to protect victims and to end the impunity of perpetrators. The EU and all member states must sign and ratify this convention to create the foundation for fighting violence against women and FGM, in particular.
This summer Cyprus starts its first presidency of the EU - its opportunity for change. It is commendable that the country has prioritised combating violence against women in its presidency agenda. To confirm its determination, Cyprus must sign and ratify the Istanbul convention and ensure that the EU joins it too. By joining, they can initiate a holistic response to FGM and create a legacy for a Europe in which all forms of violence against women are unacceptable. Cyprus and the rest of Europe must protect women and girls at risk today and future generations, if we are to create a 'better Europe'.
Dr Christine Loudes is director of the END FGM European Campaign
Christine, well-expressed - appropriately empathic and angry. Yes, the instruments are there but the political priorities continue to lie elsewhere and funding remains weak. Let's hope your text reaches readers with power to improve on what has so far been a rather dismal record in terms of protecting girls during the summer 'holidays'.
Tobe Levin - Frankfurt am Main, Germany UnCUT/VOICES Press