International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation

Today (Monday 6th February) marks International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation. To mark the day last week the Parliament debated how to best prevention and eradication Female Genital Mutilation and all other forms of so-called honour-based violence. 

You can read John’s speech below.

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green):

“Yesterday, as part of the work done by small groups of members in the Justice Committee, my colleague Mary Fee and I took evidence from a gentleman in his 50s who described a whole childhood of abuse. In the previous session—when you chaired the committee, Presiding Officer—we took evidence in private from victims of domestic abuse and heard the harrowing details of what they had gone through. Likewise, in the previous session, the Equal Opportunities Committee held three evidence sessions on the issue of female genital mutilation and heard harrowing testimonies from individuals. It is important to say that those sessions took place in private with appropriate support and safeguards. I, for one, am full of admiration for those individuals for the strength that they have shown in coming forward to inform us, as lawmakers, about such complex issues—and there is no issue more complex than FGM.

The answer is not more laws, which is why we have the national action plan on the prevention and eradication of FGM. It is not an issue for Parliament, as many members have said, and for that reason we will support the Labour amendment, which recognises the key role that community leaders can play. It is not lost on many of us that those community leaders will be men and that the power that is an intrinsic element of this obscene practice lies with men—this is gender-based violence. I am amazed at the ability that humans have to abuse each other, and FGM is linked to abusive and coercive power, as members have said.

I have difficulty with the phrase “honour-based violence”, as does Pauline McNeill. I do not get that terminology at all. Similarly, to the overwhelming number of victims, the term “female genital mutilation” means nothing. Many euphemisms are used in front of those young girls and women. For example, they are told that they are going to a party or on a holiday. They are tricked by their family and community, which in itself is a huge breach of trust that resonates for a lifetime.

I acknowledge that there are cultural pressures, but let us be quite clear about how those pressures manifest themselves. They manifest themselves in a child being attacked, sexually assaulted, mutilated, restrained and detained, often for days. The most worrying thing is the psychological effect that that has on them, which is immeasurable, and the fact that their dignity has been stolen. I will not rehearse the various medical issues that follow FGM, but the reproductive issues are significant and the victims suffer many lifetime medical issues as a consequence of it.

The legacy paper of the Equal Opportunities Committee from the previous session says that

problems identified could have been avoided if staff had been trained”.

There are issues there. That is not a criticism; there are issues around cultural sensitivities such as some women appearing at medical practices accompanied by a male and the challenges that people will understand. However, we have to get on despite those cultural sensitivities. I do not want a monoculture for Scotland—I think that Scotland grows from the growing diversity of our culture—and this is not an attack on any individual culture. It is entirely in line with the United Nations approach, which is to afford the utmost protection to all females and give the maximum support to those who seek to end this abhorrent practice.

It is not easy, but I can cite examples of where there have been sizeable changes both in the reporting of the practice and in the courts. There has been a wholesale change in the approach to domestic violence, including in police practices in courts and the support that is available. Likewise, there have been changes in how we deal with child abuse and sexual assault. Although there is some way to go on all those issues—we can all see that these things never happen straight away—progress can be made.

Education is vital in those challenging communities in which men often have undue sway. Training is important in raising awareness, particularly among health professionals. I am grateful to the British Medical Association for its briefing paper. It talks about those who are at risk and the assistance that the medical profession gives to identify them. The education authorities also help people who are returning to countries where their previous generation came from by raising awareness about what might happen at key moments in a young girl’s life.

I commend the professionals who have been involved. I also commend the volunteers, many of whom are unsung because, to be effective, regrettably, they must remain anonymous.

It is important to have international days and this is an international issue. We will support the Conservative Party amendment and—I need to take a deep breath to say this—I commend the UK Government for its support on the issue.

The reality is that we have an action plan. As others have said, it is tied into the equally safe strategy. This is about equality and it is about gender-based violence. We must have zero tolerance towards gender-based violence and, as the BMA says, we must break the generational cycle of FGM.

The motion agreed to after the debate and amendments agreed unanimously read:

That the Parliament recognises 6 February as the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM); is clear that FGM, along with all other forms of violence perpetrated against women under the guise of gender, culture or religion, so-called honour-based violence, is a violation of the human rights of women and girls; acknowledges that a preventative, supportive and legislative approach is crucial to tackling, preventing and eradicating FGM; recognises that communities and individuals affected by honour-based violence must be at the heart of work to effect significant social, cultural and attitudinal change over the long term; further recognises that faith leaders of communities potentially affected by FGM and so-called honour-based violence have a role to play in working to change cultural attitudes; welcomes the positive engagement and ongoing partnership approach across the police, NHS, education, social services, third sector and community-based organisations, in taking forward the actions from Scotland’s National Action Plan to Prevent and Eradicate FGM, and recognises the international work of the UK Government, which has allocated £35 million to reduce FGM by 30% in 17 countries across Africa