Desperate Need to put a Stop to this Horror

THERE aren't many things that would get me in front of a camera, clapping my hands and dancing about. But there's also very little I wouldn't do to draw attention to the vile act of female genital mutilation, and the desperate need to put a stop to it.

The #UseYourHead video by Integrate Bristol has brought the public, celebrities, politicians, and particularly young people together to promote gender equality.

It's fantastic that we have such active campaigners in our city, bringing the world's attention to this secretive act. But behind the smiling and dancing is a very disturbing fact. Over 100,000 women in the UK have already been made to endure female genital mutilation.

We are lucky to have so many talented and bright young women standing up to this shocking statistic, rather than letting it continue unpunished. Their bravery and determination will protect other Asian and African girls from a fate nobody deserves.

I was recently given a poetry book written by young girls from four cities, including Bristol. The topic was female genital mutilation, and one line really stuck with me – 'I struggle with forgiveness. I struggle with accepting my destiny. I am walking chaos.'

These are not the words we expect to hear from a young girl living in Britain today, her whole life ahead of her. It is an act we cannot imagine happening in our country – let alone our city. But the truth is, it does.

The summer is a critical time to be vigilant towards female genital mutilation. Just like forced marriage, the summer holidays are high season for the practice, when girls are taken abroad without raising any eyebrows as to their whereabouts.

But far from a safe, memorable beach holiday with their family, these girls are taken away to have their genitals mutilated in a range of horrific ways. This leads to infection, infertility, even death.

It is important that teachers, social workers and anybody who comes into contact with these children does their bit to put a stop to it. I want others in Bristol and across the country to harness the energy and creativity of Integrate to shine a light on a topic some would rather remained in the shadows.

Our multi-faith social action fund, Together in Service, is now accepting applications for programmes that focus on ending female genital mutilation. £30,000 is available to create local youth champions, along with £10,000 of backing for community engagement projects. The more people who know about it, the more guardians we have for our girls.

This is all about choice and freedom – two cornerstones of our society that everyone has a right to – regardless of their faith and gender.

All of this work has led to the Girl Summit, hosted by the UK. The gathering called for the end of female genital mutilation and child or forced marriage. We saw just how much good came of the recent sexual violence conference – I hope the Girl Summit will bring about great change, too.

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