Earlier today, BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour featured a 6-minute segment on FGM, tomorrow apparently being “International Zero Tolerance on FGM Day” and who better to invite on than the co-chairs of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on FGM, Jess Phillips (Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley) and Zac Goldsmith, the Tory MP for Richmond Park who was returned to Parliament last year after being unseated when he called a by-election over the expansion of Heathrow airport; many of us associate him with the Islamophobic smear campaign he ran while running for mayor against Sadiq Khan in collusion with the Australian race-baiter Lynton Crosby. You may notice a curious omission: all the three participants were white (the presenter being Jane Garvey) and therefore nobody is from a country where FGM is or has been commonplace. In fact, given that it was Woman’s Hour, you’d think they’d have found a survivor (they’re all women) or at least a woman who works with survivors. But no.
Woman’s Hour has a long history of sycophantic interviews with powerful people and especially powerful women; Madeleine Albright wasn’t asked about all the Iraqi children who had died as a result of sanctions, or about birth defects caused by depleted uranium and more recently Alison Saunders, the director of public prosecutions, was not asked about the woman who killed herself after the man she accused of rape launched a private prosecution of her and Saunders’ department, despite the police not having charged her themselves, took it over. I suspect that its presenters (mostly if not all white) would rather spend a few minutes talking about something that affects only people of other cultures with two white, middle-class people she doesn’t have to worry about offending.
To give Goldsmith his due, he did mention the fact that, unlike other forms of abuse, children at risk of FGM are often at risk of no other abuse; this is an answer to those who claim that FGM is not being prosecuted because the police are afraid of being called racist or otherwise antagonising immigrant communities. The foster care placements that would be required when parents are locked up are already needed for children at risk of other forms of abuse or neglect. But neither of them challenged the myth that FGM is still widely practised in this country; despite the long history of settlement of people from Somalia, Sierra Leone and other FGM-endemic countries in the UK and despite endless series of statistics showing “new cases” of FGM that become known to the authorities, not one person has successfully been prosecuted. FGM is a killer and if the practice was going on on any significant scale in the UK, girls would be dying. The communities concerned would not be able to conceal it for very long.
Last week I saw someone tweet a letter he had received from Ivan Balhatchet of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) in response to two letters he had sent. The letter partly read:
May I apologise for the tardiness in my response, you can appreciate that as the National Policing Lead for this portfolio the need to prioritise resources to tackle all forms of Honour-Based Abuse, including Female Genital Mutilation. This includes working wtih both statutory and non-governmental organisations, in ways to prevent FGM and protect girls and women.
There are many nuances to this crime type, which even third-sector charitable organisations, do not claim to share a nexus with your rationale of concerns for the lack of successful prosecutions.
The letter gives no suggestion of any doubt that FGM is really going on in this country. The conviction rate of zero and the prosecution rate of just three in 33 years (since FGM was made a specific offence in 1985; two cases are ongoing, one has already resulted in acquittal) reflect a lack of cases, as it is inconceivable that not a single victim (as opposed to a minority) would have come forward in all that time with a credible case and a known perpetrator. Most of the communities involved are not closed; they do have contacts with outsiders, both of their own religion and others. The idea that these people are implacably set on continuing one part of their culture while changing many others (such as their language and ways of dressing) and hugely clever in concealing it is simply preposterous as well as racist.
Ava Vidal, the Black British comedian and writer, commented when I told her about the Goldsmith/Phillips interview, “I’ve noticed how the only issue that affects predominantly WOC (women of colour) certain feminists like to latch onto is FGM”. FGM is an ideal issue for a certain type of white imperialist as there are always a new lot of statistics they can put a newsworthy and alarming spin on and the fact that it involves a community they really do not know much about and do not want to means that the lack of evidence of it actually happen does not matter. Of course it’s happening, and anyone who denies it is just “in denial”. It allows white feminists to form alliances with the political Right, it gives them an excuse to throw off the pretence of intersectionality, to rant against multiculturalism, to feel superior to someone. There are those who want an ‘interventionist’ form of feminism, as is dominant in France, where white people assume they know what is best for everyone, and white women are assumed to know what is best for other women. It also allows the government to extend the surveillance of minority communities.
The question remains: where is the evidence that FGM is going on here? Not the rumours, not the statistics of “new cases”. The infections, the injuries, the deaths. We would be seeing these things if girls were being cut, or even if they were being brought back shortly after being cut. Where are they?
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