‘The cutting season’ is perhaps an unusual name for the summer holidays, but for an estimated 20,000 girls under 16 in England and Wales, the end of the school year could be the time when it’s decided they should undergo female genital mutilation (FGM).
Abigal Muchecheti is among a group of residents in Oxfordshire who have started a campaign to raise awareness within their community. ‘People will come back to the new school year in September having been abroad or gone through the process [at home],’ she explains. ‘We want to raise as much awareness as we can before the holidays. [The six-week break] gives enough time for them to be cut and maybe to heal before they go back to school.’
Muchecheti is a writer originally from Zimbabwe. She was inspired to start campaigning against FGM by the experiences of her cousins. She describes seeing the girls ‘deteriorating physically and mentally’ after they experienced the ordeal.
Muchecheti wrote a novel based on the girls’ experiences called A Lost Youth, published in May 2013. Although she had been writing on the subject for a while, it was during a conference on FGM in London that she was driven to tackle the issue in her home county.
‘I don’t hear anyone talking about FGM here, but I realized that Oxford is quite a multicultural pace – it is just as likely to be happening within our community as anywhere else. I wanted to do something more.
‘A lot of people don’t know what FGM is, or they think it’s a cultural thing. It’s not about culture – it’s child abuse. Just because it’s something that is mainly done in Africa, it’s still child abuse.’
FGM has been a criminal offence in Britain since 1985 but there have been no convictions to date. Since 2003 it has been illegal to aid or participate in any sort of arrangement for FGM to be performed on another person inside or outside Britain.
FGM can take place at almost any age, for reasons including custom or tradition, mistaken belief it is a religious requirement, and social acceptance – especially for marriage. For the women and girls who experience it there is risk of severe blood loss, pain and shock, as well as infection, complications during childbirth and sexual intercourse and, in some cases, death. There is also the impact that such a procedure can have on mental well-being.
Around the world, an estimated 100 to 140 million girls and women have been subjected to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), with a further two million at risk each year.
In June 2013 the NSPCC launched a helpline to offer advice and support to people worried about or affected by FGM in Britain.
Muchecheti says that the Oxfordshire campaign’s first meeting was attended by a variety of people, including social and health workers. People from practising communities suggested speaking to the male heads of families.
Other ideas emerging from the meeting included contacting places of worship, such as churches and mosques, as well as the police, to find out more about statistics. There are also plans to meet with doctors and midwives and translate materials to raise awareness of FGM.
Muchecheti is planning to write a play about FGM to show to school groups: ‘We want to let girls know that it’s not something they should go through. If they know or suspect that they will go through that process they should get in touch with someone.’
To find out more about the Oxfordshire campaign to raise awareness about FGM contact Abigal Muchecheti on amuchecheti05 [at] yahoo [dot] co [dot] uk or through her blog.