In a recent interview, activist Ines Laufer explains how female genital mutilation (FGM), which aims to destroy the ability to experience sexual pleasure, threatens thousands of Muslim girls in Europe. "The number of FGM victims and minor girls at risk and the prevalence of FGM in the EU are much higher than assumed," she reports. Some families send their daughters overseas for the procedure; others utilize practitioners who travel from those countries to the West.
Yet several positive developments are of note. Last week a woman in Sweden was awarded compensation from her mother, who had subjected her to FGM during a "holiday" to Somalia in 2001 when she was eleven. "Torture" is how an administrative body describes her ordeal:
She was held down by her mother and two other women while her clitoris and inner labia were removed by a man in return for payment.
The girl's vagina was then sewn up down to the opening of her urethra. The whole procedure was conducted without anesthetic.
A similar case from Denmark resulted in a mother being sentenced earlier this year for allowing a pair of daughters to undergo the operation, which has been illegal there since 2003.
Other nations also are taking notice, as demonstrated by the following actions:
- In France, where genital mutilation continues despite a relatively vigorous record of prosecution, "the government is handing out 100,000 leaflets to schools, doctors, and other public services explaining the health and legal risks and providing information on support services for victims."
In Britain, which outlawed the procedure in 1985 but where hundreds of girls still are mutilated each year, some schools are instituting programs by which "teachers there would soon be trained to detect victims of female circumcision and pupils at risk." This is an important safety valve; an alert teacher played a key role in the Danish case.
In Italy, the president of the Association of Moroccan Women, who also is an MP, has spoken out against FGM "because unfortunately we have noticed that the practice has anything but ceased" since such operations were prohibited in 2006.
In the Netherlands, a government minister has proposed that parents planning to take at-risk children to their countries of origin be made to sign a statement acknowledging that FGM is criminal, thus enabling prosecution if they do not comply.
The campaign to protect the human rights of Muslim girls in the West will be a long and difficult one. To paraphrase Churchill, this is not the beginning of the end. But with rising awareness, we are, perhaps, moving toward the end of the beginning.