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Casualty turns spotlight on female genital mutilation

The Guardian
Saturday, April 13, 2013

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Campaigners hail move by BBC soap to take scandal out of the shadows on to peak-time TV for first time.

Female genital mutilation will feature on prime-time TV for the first time on Saturday in Casualty, bringing a modern scandal out of the shadows, say campaigners.

The BBC soap is running a storyline about a girl who has undergone the procedure and is trying to protect her younger sister from the same fate. The younger girl is threatened with being taken abroad to her extended family for cutting and later with being subjected to it in the UK.

"FGM has been in the shadows here in this country," said Efua Dorkenoo of Equality Now, one of the leading campaigners against the practice. "Because of that, we as a country are not really grappling hard with the fact that it is happening here."

There are thought to be 20,000 girls at risk of FGM living in the UK, although the figures are now old, and 66,000 women who have been subjected to it. The practice has been illegal here since 1995, but it was not until 2003 that a loophole that allowed parents to take their children abroad for FGM was closed.

"Casualty's contribution is to give voice to children whose needs are not being addressed and bringing the whole issue into the living room," said Dorkenoo. "It will contribute to bringing down the walls of silence and taboo around it."

The scriptwriter, Sasha Hails, says she was inspired to write the episode by a girl who she and other mothers of children at a London primary school suspected had been subjected to FGM.

"We became aware that this little girl disappeared for the summer and when she came back, she wasn't quite right," Hails said. "She needed to keep going to the loo and she was just different … We were a group of mums in the playground … we put two and two together. We knew it was terrible and we talked about it amongst ourselves but no one ever did anything about it. None of us even dared to talk to her mother. It seemed such a personal thing … and it really stayed in my head that this horrific thing had happened and by not doing anything we were complicit in allowing it to happen."

Nimco Ali, who was taken to Somalia at seven for FGM and is co-founder of the campaign group Daughters of Eve, was an adviser to the programme. "My personal aim is to afford young women the same privileges that I had and for them to understand that within them there is great potential," she said. "In order for that to happen we need to all stand together and empower them. As [the character] Tamasha says on Casualty, quoting a young women we have worked with: 'It never stops hurting. It is always painful.' Let us not deepen that pain by undermining the bravery of those woman and girls that come forward not only to tell their stories, but also to live a life of their choosing.

"If I could wish for one thing to change as a result of the Casualty episode, it would be for everyone to see the child in front of us as a girl asking for help and not part of an 'other' culture."

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