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February 7, 2013

Lynne Featherstone, Minister for International Development, Speaks Out Against FGC

By Spear's

‘Yesterday I did same-sex marriage, today it’s FGC [female genital cutting],’ said Lynne Featherstone, minister for international development, speaking at an Orchid Project event last night.

‘Yesterday I did same-sex marriage, today it’s FGC [female genital cutting],’ said an ebullient Lynne Featherstone, minister for international development, speaking at an event at the House of Lords last night.

6 February was the International Day for Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Cutting, and I attended a reception hosted by the Orchid Project, the anti-FGC charity featured in Spear’s latest Giver and the Gift article.

Around 3 million women and girls worldwide are subjected to FGC each year, and an estimated 66,000 women in the UK have been affected.

It’s not a topic that many feel comfortable about talking about, for fairly evident reasons, and yet the taboo surrounding the subject is one of the reasons for the delay in eliminating the practice globally.

For this reason, I felt I should explain in as simple a language as possible what FGC is, and why people should feel motivated to end it.

Common types of FGC include a clitoridectomy, the removal of all or part of the clitoris, and so-called ‘type 3’ or infibulation, where the external genitals are cut and sewn together, leaving only a tiny vaginal opening.

The vast majority of FGC is carried out by non-medical professionals and without anaesthetic, and as well as causing pain and trauma, FGC often leads to infection, problems urinating and menstruating, and complications during childbirth.

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Featherstone (pictured left) spoke of being ‘Julia-d’ — echoing Dr Frederick Mulder’s observation that the Orchid Project’s charismatic founder, Julia Lalla-Maharajh, played a large role in inspiring him to support the Orchid Project.

She’s clearly been ‘Julia-d’ herself, as Featherstone said she was planning to study the Orchid Project’s work in Senegal (through its partner Tostan) for inspiration on how to encourage abandonment of the practice in communities in the UK.

She isn’t the only one: introducing the evening Lord Joffe, a human rights lawyer who represented Nelson Mandela, said it was the only such event he’s attended where two ministers are present — Jeremy Browne Minister of State for the Home Office also turned up to pledge his support. Having spent a while researching FGC and its devastating effects, it was fantastic to see such a high profile and influential turn-out.  

Fancy being ‘Julia-d’, too?
Read more by Sophie McBain

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