Wednesday, July 11, 2007

UK Pushes to Prosecute FGM Practitioners

Most of us think of FGM (female genital mutilation) as a procedure that happens only in darkest Africa. And though its popularity on that continent dwarfs its impact in the west, it remains true that many, many young women who are citizens and residents of non-African nations continue to find themselves at the mercy of this culturally popular but medically unsafe (and unnecessary) procedure.

Given that as many as 66,000 British women are estimated to undergo the procedure this year, it makes all kinds of good sense that the British government would attempt to take action to end the insanity... and that is exactly what they have finally done. A campaign to highlight the problem in Britain will supposedly launch this week; and rewards of 20,000 pounds ($40,000 US) for the capture of suspected FGM practitioners are also on the table.

All of this is good news for the women of Britain--and, with any luck, Africa too... eventually. One thing I learned during my time in Ethiopia last summer is that this is an issue that comes down, quite simply, to education. When women practitioners learn the dangers and the lack of necessity in what they are doing, almost all of them are willing to curtail the practice. But until they are educated, they know no better or different. What would be great is if some of these efforts in Britain (which will mostly target immigrant women and communities) also included some bone fide educational outreach--not only to communities in the UK, but also to encourage sustained dialog on the issue with the home communities back in Africa. The is is a case where thinking globally, and outside of the "standard (punitive) solutions" box, could really save millions of lives.

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