Children Act 1989 (Amendment) (Female Genital Mutilation) Bill [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:20 pm on 11th March 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean Conservative, Redditch 9:20 pm, 11th March 2019

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend Zac Goldsmith, and I will keep my remarks to the indicated time limit, Mr Deputy Speaker. Other Members have made many points already, so I want to make just three further points.

This weekend, I was reading the account of Waris Dirie, one of the world’s premier supermodels, and if we need to remind ourselves of how horrendous FGM is, just listen to what happened to her when she was five years old. Her genitals were completely cut off and then she was stitched closed, because she had to undergo the practice of infibulation, whereby not only were her genitals cut off, but she was left with only a patch of skin, completely smooth except for a scar down the middle, which she describes as being like a zipper. The procedure leaves a miniscule hole, meaning that on a woman’s wedding night—this is quite horrific—the husband has to cut her open or force his way in. No one can read or think about that without finding it horrific. The practice also means that some girls actually pass out during menstruation.

How do we tackle the issue? We must take an international approach, because we know that the desire for social acceptance and the avoidance of ostracism is one of the underlying roots of FGM. Like many Members, when I talk about the international aid budget, I am sometimes challenged on whether it is being spent in the right way, but when we hear stories like Waris’s and those of the other women about whom we have heard tonight, the general public will be behind what DFID is doing.

We must also consider the Bill’s broader cultural context, which includes child marriage. Over 700 million women and girls alive today were married as children, which is why I welcome DFID’s wide-ranging work to reduce FGM, including spending £50 million to support African-led movements to end FGM by 2030. So far, DFID has supported 78,000 communities, amounting to 24.5 million people, and has helped more than 3 million girls. The Department is also supporting the UN to the tune of £12 million to end violence against women and practices such as child marriage and domestic and sexual violence and to help 750,000 women and girls. I think that the general public would agree that that money is well spent when it goes towards stamping out the root causes of such horrific acts.

My final point is about why the problem is so hard to eradicate. We have heard that it is a broad cultural issue, that people are frightened to report it and that it comes with stigma and shame in some communities. The women who carry out the act do so from a place of love. They do it because their ancestors did it to them, so they are doing what they think is right. This is about education, so we need to examine how we teach not just victims and young children, but also the women who carry out the act. We must therefore consider the new sex and relationships education that is being introduced into schools on a compulsory basis, and we must ask ourselves some searching questions as a society. Do we think it is right that parents can withdraw their children from such lessons? How do we tackle the difficult issue of some communities protesting outside schools because they do not like what the Government are trying to teach children when that education involves precisely the issues that we are debating tonight?

We must eradicate the horrific mutilation of young women and girls. I look forward to supporting the Bill and seeing it progress through the House tonight.