I am delighted to open this stage 3 debate on the Female Genital Mutilation (Protection and Guidance) (Scotland) bill. It is an important bill that will make a real difference to women and girls who are at risk of, or who have experienced, the abhorrent practice of FGM.
Although we have had some debate today on the provisions of the bill, there is broad consensus across the chamber that it is the right thing to do.
Like other forms of gender-based violence, FGM is a manifestation of power and a means of controlling the sexuality of women and girls. It is a form of violence against women and girls. As the minister with responsibility for the Scottish Government’s work in this area, I am committed to preventing FGM in Scotland and to ensuring that girls and women who are at risk of FGM are protected from harm. FGM has been illegal since 1985. The Female Genital Mutilation (Protection and Guidance) (Scotland) Bill seeks to add to existing protections and to improve the system response to women and girls who are at risk of harm.
It is estimated that around 200 million girls and women across 30 countries have been subject to FGM. The prevalence of FGM in Scotland is difficult to estimate because of the hidden nature of the crime. A Scottish Refugee Council report in 2014 found that there are communities that may be affected by FGM in every local authority area in Scotland, with the largest affected communities being in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Dundee.
So, FGM is not a new issue and this Government has been taking action. In 2016 we published “Scotland’s National Action Plan to Prevent and Eradicate Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)”. I pay tribute to my colleague Angela Constance, who started this journey. I am merely finishing her first steps. The purpose of the national action plan is to foster an environment of prevention in Scotland and to improve the welfare and quality of life of FGM survivors. We are taking steps to engage with communities, to raise awareness and to improve the response of front-line services.
The bill meets our commitment to strengthen legal protections for those who are at risk of FGM. The new protection order that it will make available means that our public services and our courts will be able to focus on the need to protect those persons at risk or those who have already suffered from FGM being carried out on them. Building on experience in other jurisdictions in the UK, and reflecting on the support in our consultation, this is an effective and proven approach to reducing risk to potential victims.
To support those new protection orders, the bill places a duty on ministers to issue statutory guidance on the protection orders, and also provides a power to issue guidance on FGM more generally. We intend to focus our efforts on ensuring that that guidance is developed with community input at every step, and that we are guided by what women and girls need from their public services. That is critical for me: the approach is “nothing about us without us.” I often use that term, and I mean it.
On that note, I thank those both within and outwith the chamber who have worked closely with the Government over the past 18 months to help get us to this point.
I thank the Equalities and Human Rights Committee, under the leadership of Ruth Maguire, which undertook significant detailed and thoughtful scrutiny. That included working closely with community members with lived experience to allow them to tell their stories. I know that every member of that committee was touched by the stories that they heard. They visited front-line services to understand how protecting women and girls from FGM happens on the ground and they took evidence from a range of experts and organisations. It was expert, detailed and valuable scrutiny. I commend the convener and members of the committee for their thoughtful and considered work, which has undoubtedly helped to ensure that we have the strongest possible legislation.
Above all, I thank those organisations and experts who have taken the time to share their deep expertise with me and with this Parliament. They included JustRight Scotland, Multi-Cultural Family Base, Shakti Women’s Aid, Saheliya, Community InfoSource, Amina Muslim Women’s Resource Centre, Kenyan Women in Scotland and Dundee International Women’s Centre, as well as Dr Ima Jackson, and Judy Wasige of Glasgow Caledonian University who work hard to ensure that the voices of women and girls are better heard in policy making.
I would especially like to thank Neneh Bojang, a courageous survivor of FGM and community activist, who stood with me outside Parliament less than a year ago as we launched the bill. She said at the time that if just one person did not have to experience what she had had to, the bill would be worth it.
I am confident that, if the Parliament votes to pass the bill today, we will be protecting more women and girls than we were yesterday and that we will be one step further towards our goal of ultimately preventing and eradicating female genital mutilation.
That the Parliament agrees that the Female Genital Mutilation (Protection and Guidance) (Scotland) Bill be passed.