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Female Genital Mutilation (Protection and Guidance) (Scotland) Bill

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 19th March 2020.

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Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

I am delighted to speak for Scottish Labour.

I thank Oliver Mundell, Ruth Maguire, Mary Fee and the members of the Equalities and Human Rights Committee for being excellent parliamentarians, and for doing work that—although expected—is of high quality. I also want to record my thanks to Angela Constance for the work that she did in her previous ministerial role, and to Christina McKelvie, who has taken the bill through so ably.

Protection of women and girls is of universal concern. I have not been involved in the debate previously, but I have followed it from its outset. An estimated one in 20 girls and women in the world has undergone some form of FGM, according to figures from the United Nations. In 2020 alone, 4.1 million girls around the world are at risk of undergoing FGM. The UN is, rightly, calling for a complete ban on FGM and wants the practice to be ended worldwide by 2030. However, it strikes me that that is another 10 years of this brutal crime. I hope that the UN might be able to bring that date forward.

FGM is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of girls. FGM has absolutely no health benefits: rather, it harms girls and women, because it interferes with the natural functions of their bodies. There is a ban on it in Scotland, and it is also illegal to help someone to commit FGM or to take someone out of the country to undergo it. The legislation will be vital, because it will provide increased protections for girls who are at increased risk of being put under pressure to undergo the abhorrent and dangerous practice.

I have carefully followed the amendments this afternoon, as they were dealt with by the minister. The question of anonymity is an absolutely vital aspect of the legislation, because it protects women and girls from future harm. The bill will allow a court to make a protection order to protect a person who is at risk of being subjected to FGM. Labour is delighted to support the principles of the bill and will vote for it at stage 3.

Doctors in Scotland treated victims of FGM on more than 230 occasions during 2017 and 2018. NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said that it had identified women with FGM on at least 138 occasions over that period. NHS Lothian, which covers Edinburgh, said that there were 93 occasions on which it was notified. It is quite shocking that we still face that in Scotland. Dr Duncan McCormick, who is a consultant in public health medicine at NHS Lothian, pointed out that

“It is a form of abuse and gender-based violence that has serious short and long term physical and psychological consequences”.

All FGM survivors have appalling stories and members have shared those horrible stories in Parliament. I will finish with one such story. Lesha said:

“I was sent to Guinea for the summer. I was mutilated along with my baby sister. She was 9, and I was 11. After the circumcision, I don't know what happened exactly, but she died. She was my best friend.

After the ritual, I was placed in a room with other girls, and men were not allowed to see us. I remember not seeing my family for days—I can't remember exactly how long.

When I finally returned home and saw my family, they were happy and proud. I was finally a woman.

Sex is painful, and I hate it. I hate being touched. It feels like rape every time. I cry inside, I cry out loud, and my husband does not care. It does not hurt him.

I had Type-3 FGM, and I was reopened after we were married.”

That kind of pain is typical for a survivor of FGM, and her story shows that some girls even die from the procedure.

I am delighted that the Scottish Government has accepted the recommendation of the Equalities and Human Rights Committee that

“statutory guidance should be supported by appropriate professional training”,

so that FGM protection orders are used appropriately and implemented effectively.

Michelle Ballantyne made an important point about the education that is required to accompany the protection order and the crime that we will now have in Scots law.

The enhanced protection will be vital in helping to protect vulnerable girls from the life-changing and life-threatening practice of FGM. I am delighted that Scottish Labour will vote for the bill at decision time.

FGM is a global issue; it is an issue all around the world. Scotland has done the right thing and we can say that we have done everything in our power to protect girls here. However, we know that we need to champion the issue around the globe.