“High-powered, emotional and inspiring…I hope this day can be a landmark in this important struggle.”
That was how campaigning MEP Marina Yannakoudakis today described her conference in London on the scandal of female genital mutilation (FGM) – and moves to eradicate it forever.
After hearing from a top-level panel of international experts including politicians, journalists, medical professionals and fellow campaigners – plus a brave survivor of mutilation, Mrs Yannakoudakis said: “What we have heard today has been inspirational. I hope and pray this may prove to be the day the tide turned on this hidden disgrace – the unspeakable cruelty of FGM.
The conference at City Hall heard contributions from Public Health Minister Jane Ellison, the Mayor of London Boris Johnson, Janet Fyle of the Royal College of Midwives, Walter Lutschinger of the Desert Flower Foundation, and Austrian MEP Angelika Werthmann.
It was chaired by Sarah Sands, editor of the London Evening Standard, which has published a series of powerful articles highlighting the prevalence and cruelty of mutilation. The Standard was also media partner for the event.
The most powerful testimony came from Alimatu Dimonekene, from London, who told the horrifying story of how she had the agony of mutilation forced upon her at the age of 16 in her native Sierra Leone. It happened at the home of her grandmother as older female relatives held her down – against the wishes of her heartbroken mother.
At the same time, she said, her six-year-old sister also had parts of her sexual organs brutally cut away, by force and using dirty instruments without anaesthetic.
Mrs Dimonekene said the horror of the experience and the lasting physical consequences had left her with problems in childbirth as well as psychological damage.
Opening the conference, Mrs Yannakoudakis said: “By highlighting a problem and talking about it, momentum gathers. Once people start discussing a problem together; that is when we find solutions.
“By bringing together experts and professionals in European, UK and local policy and at grassroots level, we can, together, find concrete solutions to stop FGM. For my part, I have worked on FGM policy in the European Parliament for 5 years now. As spokesman for Women’s Rights I have worked on nearly 200 parliamentary reports and opinions. I have taken every opportunity to include FGM policy in our work and have raised awareness of the problem throughout the parliament.
“It is estimated that 500, 000 girls across Europe have been subjected to FGM. In a few weeks’ time I am going to go to Paris to speak to government officials there about what they are doing to address FGM.
“France is the only country so far to have had a prosecution linked to FGM and I am keen to learn more about what they do so I can share this with experts here. The effect of the prosecution, the consequences to the family and how it was perceived by the community are areas we need to examine.”
Although FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985 there has not been a single prosecution, although it is estimated there are tens of thousands of victims. Mars Yannakoudakis believes misplaced sensitivities over cultural and religious aspects to the FGM have led to ineffective management of the problem.
Earlier this month she launched a hard-hitting three-point manifesto for the eradication of FGM. It demanded a more-robust approach to prosecution, more-rigorous reporting and recording of cases to give a true picture of its prevalence, and end to sending unconditional development aid to countries that continue to allow FGM.