Women's Rights

Hehir and O’Neill on FGM

Whereas most people welcome moves to publicise the dangers of FGM and clamp down on the practice, the contrarians of Spiked aren’t so sure. Recently Baroness Jenny Tonge expressed concern that some of the British families on a flight to Addis Ababa might be taking part in the ‘cutting season’. In response, Brendan O’Neill opens his recent Spectator post with a misleading analogy:

Imagine if a Ukip politician wrote about being on an aeroplane that was ‘heaving’ with black people. Imagine if he described becoming suspicious of them, and assuming, on the basis of no evidence, just a hunch, that they must be flying overseas to get up to no good. Imagine if he complained to British police about this ‘heaving’ group of dark-skinned air travellers, and the police agreed to interrogate them upon their return to Britain.

Whereas O’Neill expresses outrage at the way in which British Somalian families may become targets for special scrutiny, he offers no alternative strategy for dealing with what he terms a ‘backward, barbaric act’, simply lashes out at straw men with indignant hyperbole.

You want me to spy on my African neighbours? The African shopkeeper I see every morning? His daughter? I won’t do it. If the crusade against FGM means treating my fellow citizens as pre-criminals on the basis of their skin colour and heritage, count me out.

A still worse piece was recently published on Spiked.  Brid Hehir offers a series of (sometimes contradictory) reasons to be suspicious of the high profile campaign against FGM.  First she says

young people reared in Britain differ from their parents in that they are better integrated and more likely to reject traditional practices.

OK, but that may not be enough to stop them becoming victims if their parents are less integrated. Some of these young people are precisely those at the forefront of the anti-FGM campaign, but their efforts are glossed over in this article. Then she offers this odd argument:

However, some older people do worry that, under the weight of such official condemnation, some girls may defiantly choose to be cut – for reasons similar to teenagers wanting to join the Islamic State.

If this is a problem – and I suspect it’s a fairly niche one – is it a good reason to stop trying to help girls who are being forced to undergo FGM against their will? She then argues that it simply isn’t happening to any significant degree:

All of the people I spoke to know that FGM is illegal in the UK, and no one I spoke to knew of it currently taking place anywhere in the country. While one woman said she had been cut in a flat in Woolwich by a Yemeni doctor as a young girl, the rest of the women who had undergone FGM were cut in their country of origin. All of this suggests that FGM is not being carried out in Britain on anywhere near the scale anti-FGM campaigners allege.

However, as Brendan O’Neill’s article acknowledged, it’s not all about the UK.  Families who want their daughters to undergo FGM may seek to evade the law by returning to their country of origin. Her next argument, that FGM is dying out in some of these countries of origin, such as Somalia, is not itself proof that Britons from Somalia won’t perpetuate the practice.  If Hehir is correct in her assertion that the practice is falling out of favour in the UK, obviously that’s welcome, but clearly for some it is still a horrifying reality.  This is implicitly acknowledged by Hehir when she points out that many Imams insist the practice is unislamic (why would they feel the need to do so if there wasn’t a problem?) or complains that the blunt language used by campaigners may alienate ‘the people who really need to be brought on-side.’ In fact this argument – that the campaign materials are ‘offensive’ – is itself pretty offensive, as is her squeamish objection to the word ‘mutilation’, and her reference to ‘the most minor forms of FGM’. Her own suggestions for better policies seem to include absolutely no preventative measures.  Although she does make the odd passing reference to the problems caused by FGM these seem far less pressing than the dangers of embarrassment and awkwardness.  She offers no space to campaigners such as Leyla Hussein who battles against just the views Hehir seems to be promoting.

Alec adds: My maternal grandmother, Ina or Ena (depending on spelling) Hood (1905 to 1984); who later married the widower (my grandfather) of perhaps the first European born in British East Africa. The photograph dates from 1937 when she ” was seconded from Tumutumu (now Central Province, Kenya) in 1936 to work in girls’ education and training. The girl boarders were often the daughters of Christian converts who wished to avoid the traditional initiation ceremonies, the training also provided them with employable skills”.

That is, 80 years ago my family members were fighting against FGM. What has O’Neill or Germaine Greer done?

My mother still wear the hat she is wearing.  In the garden, I still use the jembe and panga she brought back from the region.

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