Senselessly mutilating flowers

All right, now I’ve got your attention with a title that intrigued but didn’t scare you, I’ll confess: this is not about floral brutality – that was just a metaphor. But you felt it, didn’t you?  You felt the futile anger of an onlooker as a thoughtless idiot kicked the blooms to their death.  You saw the petals fall.  You mourned the loss of their beauty.

Now imagine that was not a flower, but a vulva; and it was not kicked, but slashed at, mutilated, and sewn up.

Yes, this is about female genital mutilation (FGM) and no, I’m not going to go away if you find this uncomfortable.

Up until recently, I, along with many teachers (I suspect), saw FGM as a hopeless minefield of difficult issues that was best dealt with by ‘others’.  This was also a proxy for a general feeling that it only happened to ‘others’ and that, if I closed my eyes and thought about flowers, it wouldn’t be something I would need to deal with professionally. I don’t blame you if you feel this way; like you, I have sat through LEA Child Protection training or been given advice from colleagues along these lines:
“It’s tricky – we must respect the cultural and religious norms of others – we can’t be seen to be DISCRIMINATING! – but ah, urgh, it does seem a bit brutal  – but perhaps we shouldn’t involve ourselves in anything to do with genitals – it’s easier just to stay out of it – let the experts sort it out…”

This issues ticks multiple boxes of discomfort: feminism, genitalia of minors, consent, religion, racism, xenophobia, potential clashes with parents, dealing with LEA and other agencies (paperwork). It’s also something very visceral, whatever your genitalia, to imagine them being butchered without your consent. I get it.  But you’re an adult, and this is happening TO CHILDREN AND THEY NEED OUR HELP.

I was lucky enough to hear Leyla Hussein speak about this issue last night, and she not only changed my understanding of FGM but gave me permission to care about it.  She was incredible – passionate, funny, powerful – in her clarity: FGM is sexual assault and brutality against young girls.  It’s not a ‘tradition’ we can humour or a ‘cultural rite’ we can click our tongues over and ignore.  And as teachers, as with all Child Protection Issues, we are often on the front line when it comes to preventing, noticing and stopping abuse.It’s in our remit.  It’s our responsibility.

It’s also about a wider issue, which is controlling women’s bodies. FGM happens to prevent or punish sexual activity in women.  Yes, there are still people in the world who want to do that.  We have to let our pupils know we condemn this in every way.

So: what can we do?

1. Start with the basics: use specific and correct language in your classroom. Vagina, vulva, clitoris, sexual, assault, consent. Say ’em til they feel natural.  Start a dialogue with pupils where they can use them.
2. Read up about FGM.  Start here and here and here.
3.  Find out if your LEA trains teachers on FGM as part of their Safeguarding training. If not, ask.
4. Donate to the Dahlia Project (click ‘donate’ and name ‘Dahlia Project’ in the comments)
5. Follow Leyla on Twitter, as well as EndFGMEU and EndFGM


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