Saturday, April 13, 2013
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
"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."
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."
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."