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Female Genital Mutilation

Volume 801: debated on Thursday 6 February 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to support international efforts to end female genital mutilation.

My Lords, the UK is proud to support the Africa-led movement to end female genital mutilation. Since 2013, DfID programmes have helped more than 10,000 communities pledge to abandon FGM. In 2018, we announced a further £50 million UK aid package to tackle FGM. Today, which marks the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM, the Secretary of State has announced funding to the World Health Organization and the United Nations to support affected countries as they address FGM through their health and legal systems.

I thank the Minister for her response. In 2013, the UK Government made a very welcome commitment of £35 million to be spent in efforts to end female genital mutilation. However, there are some genuine concerns that a large proportion of that sum failed to reach women on the front lines, with the result that very little has actually changed. Can my noble friend assure the House that the £50 million to which she referred that DfID promised in 2018, which is again very welcome, will reach the grass-roots activists who have been risking their lives to end this appalling abuse of girls?

My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend for raising this issue today. FGM is a human rights violation that can result in a lifetime of physiological and emotional suffering. She is absolutely right that supporting grass-roots activists must be key to our approach to ending FGM. The first phase of our support built the Girl Generation, the largest ever global movement, which consists of over 900 grass-roots organisations. Our new programme will continue to support organisations based in affected communities, many of which are led by women and young people working on the front line to end FGM. We will also have a specific fund to support grass-roots activists and youth initiatives, with small grants to lead change in their own communities and to hold their own Governments to account.

My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Featherstone for initiating DfID’s first and substantial programme in this area to tackle the cultural causes of FGM. I am delighted that DfID is continuing with that incredibly important work. How are the Government engaging with the brave and outspoken individuals and groups in this country that are seeking change? Does the Minister agree that it is vital to engage both with the diaspora here and with leaders and communities in the countries where this practice is still considered to be an honourable one?

My Lords, I certainly agree that we cannot end FGM in the UK without tackling it globally. That is why we are supporting the Africa-led movement to end FGM and why we are supporting activists and organisations here in the UK. We have made some good progress here in the UK: we have introduced several protection orders and mandatory reporting for girls. That is all working to help to break the cycle of FGM for good.

Following on from that question, does the Minister agree that there are grass-roots activists who have to flee to the UK and seek asylum and refuge here? Is she confident that the Home Office is providing the refuge that it should, both for activists against FGM and for girls at risk of FGM?

My Lords, we work closely with the Home Office to ensure that people who are fleeing the practice of FGM are very carefully looked after.

May I take odds with my noble friend on the notion that we cannot do anything about FGM here until we have dealt with it internationally? I do not think that is true at all. The number of convictions that there have been in this country has been minimal, if not non-existent. If we start convicting both the people who have done these surgical operations and the parents who have authorised them, we might be able to stop it here.

My Lords, in order to end FGM, which is what we are all trying to do, we need to tackle it both here in the UK and globally. We have set ourselves the target of ending FGM by 2030; we are making good progress on that, but there is still more to do. My noble friend is right that there have been minimal convictions here in the UK, but we have issued a number of protection orders, which are helping to address the issue.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that our work in this area and other areas in international development has been far more effective since we set up a separate international development department in 1997? Will she be really courageous and tell the Prime Minister this when he is considering the machinery of government?

The noble Lord is tempting me. We are incredibly proud of the work that we do at DfID, but the Government are fully committed to development, as can be seen from the manifesto where we commit to 0.7% and set out a number of priorities such as ending preventable deaths and 12 years of quality education for girls. Regardless of what the Prime Minister decides in his machinery of government changes, the Government will remain committed to international development.

My Lords, the APPG on Population, Development and Reproductive Health is hosting a round table on 2 March for many of the organisations and individuals who are campaigning against this barbaric practice. If my noble friend’s diary allows, I extend an invitation to her to join that meeting.

I thank my noble friend for that invitation. I would be delighted to join that meeting. Today, on the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, I take this opportunity to praise the efforts of the FGM activists, survivors, leaders and charities here in the UK and around the world. I met many incredible activists last night and will be meeting some more later. This work can be incredibly challenging and traumatic, and they deserve our thanks for working so hard to end FGM globally.

My Lords, to return to what is happening in this country, is the Minister satisfied that teachers and school governors in our schools are being properly trained to look out for the signs of what is happening to young women who may be vulnerable to this appalling practice?

My Lords, ensuring that we reflect this in schools is absolutely part of our work domestically. The Department for Education has provided nearly £2 million for a national programme to improve the response to FGM. We will continue to work with schools to highlight the issue.

My Lords, the Minister mentioned the efforts through health systems and legal systems to tackle this outrageous crime. However, as we have seen in Egypt only this week, where FGM is prohibited by law, these things still go on. How are we addressing education and changing attitudes to this horrendous crime?

My Lords, sadly we saw the death of a 12 year-old girl in Egypt recently after a medicalised FGM. This shows that it is not a safe practice: there are no health benefits and it is a breach of human rights. We need to address these issues in many ways. We have seen good progress regarding legislative changes. Recently, President Kenyatta of Kenya committed to ending FGM in Kenya by 2022. We must also help to implement that law and support civil society and activists in holding their Governments to account.