Published on 6 Mar 2013 Sections ,

UK pledges £35m to fight female genital mutilation

The UK government promises £35m to try to end female genital mutilation within a generation, with the money targeted at education to challenge deep rooted cultural norms.

Campaigners told Channel 4 News the £35m investment over five years was “massive”.

International development minister Lynne Featherstone made the commitment at the UN in New York, saying it was time to back the African-led movement to break the taboo on female genital mutilation (FGM).

Three million girls are at risk of FGM in Africa alone and up to 140 million women and girls globally have undergone FGM. It has risen up the global agenda in recent years thanks to campaigns from activists such as Waris Dirie, the Somali supermodel (pictured) who is a survivor of FGM. But Ms Featherstone said it was time to do more:

“For too long the international community has been cowardly on this subject, finding it too difficult to tackle. Girls around the world have suffered a lifetime of damage, sometimes even death, as a result,” she said.

“My aim is to ensure that very soon FGM is as outdated a practice as foot-binding. We mustn’t be satisfied until we’ve seen the end of FGM worldwide.”

Also known as female circumcision, FGM includes any procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs. The procedures have no medical benefits and often cause lasting injury and even death. FGM is widely recognised as a gross violation of the human rights of women and girls, but is still a huge problem in many countries.

My aim is to ensure that very soon female genital mutilation is as outdated a practice as foot-binding. Lynne Featherstone MP

Ms Featherstone said the new funding aimed to reduce FGM by 30 per cent in at least ten countries within the next five years.

“Female genital cutting is one of the worst kinds of gender violence. We know most families want the best for their children and education, and changing cultural norms, rather than merely condemnation, is key.”

Nimco Ali, a campaigner of Somali heritage who set up the non-profit organisation Daughters of Eve, told Channel 4 News education was central.

“It’s a great thing that the subject is on the table. As an activist and a survivor, I welcome the commitment, but the whole conversation of eradicating FGM in one generation – it’s not like malaria, that’s not how it works.

“It’s about looking at what it is and empowering women within their societies. There is so much more to FGM than just the process of cutting,” she said.

‘Massive’ funding pledge

The UK funding will be used directly within local communities in at least 15 countries, as well as working with governments and traditional leaders to back laws ending FGM. It will also fund research into the most cost-effective approaches to tackling the problem, to ensure the work has the biggest impact.

It will also be used to support diaspora communities in the UK to help change practices in their countries of origin.

Rukayah Sarumi, advocacy manager at Forward, a campaign group aimed at protecting the sexual health and rights of African girls and women, said the funding was “massive” and significant.

“It’s particularly significant that the announcement was made at the UN’s Commission for the Status of Women, because it demonstrates the government’s willingness to take the lead on this on the international stage,” she told Channel 4 News.

“We’re also pleased to hear some of the £35m will be used for diaspora engagement. We’re keen to stress the diaspora has a specific role in ending FGM – it’s an issue affecting UK girls, there are up to 24,000 girls affected in the UK. It’s a mode of let’s wait and see what can be done but we are happy an ambitious tone has been taken.”