“I think FGM is a taboo subject. A lot of people don’t want to talk about that sort of stuff, just because I think it made me cringe a little bit. Talking about it will obviously make people feel quite uncomfortable.”
FGM (female genital mutilation): Partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
Every year, more than three million girls are estimated to be at risk of having their genitals mutilated – often at the hands of those they trust the most.
Cultural pressures and old unsustained beliefs are at the heart of this practice, which has affected more than 200 million girls and women worldwide, most of whom are under the age of 15. Girls are especially at risk in East African countries, such as Eritrea, Ethiopia and Gambia – as well as across Asia and the Middle East. The list of countries where this practice has become the norm is as extensive as the health complications FGM brings to the girls it is imposed on.
But did you know that FGM also happens in the United Kingdom?
On International Day of the Girl Child (11 October), the IPF quizzed Londoners about their knowledge on FGM. Among the uncomfortable grins and shy responses, Londoners appeared to be genuinely interested in learning more about the topic and discussing it – but not without hesitation.
Their hesitant reaction is largely a consequence of the taboo that has been formed surrounding women’s bodies and femininity. This is a leading factor when it comes to explaining the lack of knowledge or awareness about FGM.
Matthew, 24, admitted that he was not aware of how widespread the practice was.
“I think it is a taboo subject,” he said. “A lot of people don’t want to talk about that sort of stuff, just because I think it made me cringe a little bit. Talking about it will obviously make people feel quite uncomfortable.”
Hailey, 25, felt the same way. She said women’s issues should be everyone’s issues and that society needed to open up the discussion around women’s bodies.
“Sometimes I feel that women’s issues are sidelined because it doesn’t affect everybody. It needs to be taken on the shoulders of everyone, not just a certain group.”
“So how do we open up the discussion?”
We asked Londoners this very question when we took to the streets – and their answers proved that initiating a conversation about FGM is the first step to prevention.