Friday, 5 June 2009

The race is not for the swift, it is for those who endure it

Thus spoke Prof Jacqui at Tuesday's training, it struck a chord with me. Today, I'm still playing catch up. Outside, the rain fleets down, the sky is cotton wool grey and the traffic on the Edgware Road stutters. Another cup of tea is in order.

I had hoped to catch up with Mike yesterday, to ask his advice on film, but we both somehow ran out of time. My questions to him were all going to be around the Waris Dirie film of "Desert Flower" which is due for release in Germany, in September 2009. As she is an ex-UN ambassador against FGM and now has her own foundation, the film is likely to concentrate on this. I want to see if it will be shown in the UK and if so, whether we can somehow maximise the PR potential around it.

Toby at Freud has already given me some ideas, but I've got to get down and do something concrete now. Film is an amazing way of capturing the public and this could be a huge missed opportunity. Toby put a very pertinent question to me though - "is the film any good?" Hmmmm. It has both Juliet Stevenson and Meera Syal in it, both actresses of calibre, but I know this means little.

Some other facts about FGM (I'm breaking you in gently, you see...) There are different types.

Type 1: Excision of the hood of the clitoris (prepuce) with or without excision of part or all of the clitoris

Type 2: Excision of the hood and clitoris together with partial or total excision of the labia minora

Type 3: Excision of part or all of the external genitalia and stitching of the vaginal opening (also known as infibulation or pharaonic type)

Type 4: All other types! Includes pricking, piercing, incision, cauterising of the clitoris, scraping or cutting of the vagina.

So there's the technical stuff. Sorry, didn't mean to go straight into that on a Friday lunchtime, but it had to be done to take me to my next point.

I was a guest of LCA's at dinner last night. Land Aid's "Party Near the Park" and it was a real pleasure to see the gang again and do our stuff on the dance floor. Mariam's partner was sitting next to me at dinner and he was open-mided enough to ask all the right questions: How to pee? How to have periods? What happens when it comes to giving birth?

Of course, all the answers are as you'd expect. With hellish difficulty. Type 3, infibulation, is often the most invasive and has the most severe repercussions. Girls are left with a tiny opening through which their menstrual blood passes. But not always - it can get severly backed up and cause huge problems with infection.

As to giving birth, women have to be de-infibulated - opened up again. Clinical guidelines here say that a woman can be de-infibulated, but not re-infibulated. Sometimes, women will therefore return to their country of origin to have this done. Because this for them is their normality.

I'm trying to be careful with language. Being judgemental in this debate does not help anyone. We here sense the horror of FGM. To the communities where it happens, it is entirely normal. And let's not forget, earlier last century, "hysterical" women in both the US and the UK routinely had their clitorises removed, as a cure. So who are we to pass judgement?

Other thoughts that emerged this week:

The police have to grapple with not only girls being flown out from the UK during their summer holidays when this happens, but also with circumcisers being flown in from other countries. They may cut a number of girls whilst "on holiday" here.

Girls from other countries may be flown into the UK to be cut. I think there was a case of this happening with girls from Denmark.

I get a quick email from Barbara. She is chair of the foundation for mother and child health, which she founded some years ago whilst living in Jakarta. I am one of the trustees. Together, she and I explored and found to our horror that type 4 (remember? pricking/cauterising clitoris) is prevalent in Indonesia. Not only prevalent. Growing. And linked to the Islamic faith.

Do you know how many people live in Indonesia? Take a guess... ok - 250m. So Barbara promises to follow up with her health workers and volunteers in the field, and she is en route to West Timor, so will have a look at it there too.....

OK - I'm sure blogs aren't meant to be this much of a ramble... are you still with me?

My final task for the day - to find out how to set up an All Party Parliamentary Group. About time too.. with what's left of Parliament.....

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