Category: Uncategorized

FGM: do the French know better?

It was good to see Frances Gibb writing in The Times this week – http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/law/article3983206.ece – about the woeful level of prosecutions for female genital mutilation “FGM” in the UK. Our record on dealing with this issue is shameful.

In France, where the number of prosecutions is much higher, they rely on reporting of the crime by health professionals whereas we have been relying on girls coming forward themselves to complain
Finally, it seems, the police are recognising that we need a more enlightened approach to this most traumatic assault on these girls’ safety, sexuality and health. Children are unlikely to come forward to give evidence against their parents (even though a parent often will have been present and complicit). That’s why the French reliance on reporting of the assault by health professionals has been key to their comparative success in this area.

I would go even further however: let’s have mandatory reporting by health professionals, teachers, or social services, who know an assault has taken or is likely to take place. That may even mean, if reporting did not increase after a trial period, that we should make it an offence to fail to do so.

We have come a long way since Germaine Greer opposed criminalising FGM as an “attack on cultural identity” but we need more courage in our convictions. We need to uphold British culture for everyone living here. FGM is an act of bloody assault which can deprive a girl of any future sexual pleasure. It is violent, invasive, permanent and a breach of her human rights.

As a Western democracy it is time we made sure we deliver protection to all of the children who live here, whatever their family of origin and its traditions.

Silver Lining Outlook

The behavior of the likes of Rennard and Hancock are symptoms of a broader and more intractable problem – the inherently unequal, male and sexist culture of politics. I believe so strongly that sexism is institutionalised in parliament and I do not make the accusation lightly (more on this in another piece soon).

We need to start thinking seriously about running parliament like serious businesses are run, with accountability, proper complaints procedures and managed performance. We need an independent all-party system to remove the invidious pressure on party leaders not to damage the public image of their party with voters. in other words, we need wholesale reform of our political system.

At the same time we need to effect cultural change – always hard – by questioning the kind of environment and attitudes we are asking women and other minorities to work with and implement the necessary training to drag parliament into the modern world. Too many people pay too great a price in terms of their family life to be MPs in a job from which vast numbers of voters feel alienated. I think those two things are related as is the offensively sexist culture.

The women who have spoken up about Rennard and Hancock have done us all a great service and there is the chance to bring about some good from their courage.