Taliban schoolgirl target Malala backs FGM campaign in Britain

by Emma Batha | @emmabatha | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 25 February 2014 17:42 GMT

Pakistani teenage activist Malala Yousafzai, an advocate for education for girls, is seen here leaving a news conference at the Zaatri camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan. Picture February 18, 2014. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

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Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager shot by the Taliban for demanding schooling for girls, wants to get education about FGM into all Britain's schools

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl shot by the Taliban for demanding education for girls, is backing a campaign to eradicate female genital mutilation (FGM) in Britain, according to media reports.

Malala told the Guardian newspaper she was supporting a drive led by British teenager Fahma Mohamed to get education about FGM into all UK schools.

"Over 140 million girls and women are mutilated (worldwide) – but like keeping girls out of school in Pakistan, we can come out together and be strong and change things for the next generation. I am her sister and I am at her side and I want her to be listened to as I was," she said.

Campaigners in Britain have long said that schools should be on the front line in efforts to tackle FGM, and that teachers must be taught about the practice so that they can identify girls at risk.

Fahma, 17, met British Education Minister Michael Gove on Tuesday to push her demands. Campaigners tweeted late on Tuesday that Gove had agreed to write to all schools.

Malala, now 16, was flown to Britain for medical treatment after being shot in the head as she left school in Pakistan's Swat Valley in 2012. She was attacked because of her campaign against Taliban efforts to deny women education.

She said it was important that Gove write to all schools in the UK telling them to train teachers and parents about the impact of FGM, which can cause serious physical and psychological harm.

Malala, now a global advocate for women's rights, is to meet FGM campaigners in the central UK city of Birmingham where she lives with her family, the Guardian said.

FGM is practised by some communities in 28 African countries as well as small parts of the Middle East and Asia, but is not prevalent in Pakistan.

Britain made FGM illegal nearly 30 years ago, but the authorities have turned a blind eye to the secretive practice until recently and  more than 20,000 girls are thought to be at risk of being cut. FGM is traditional among several communities including Somalis, Eritreans, Sudanese, Sierra Leoneans and Egyptians. 

The government believes many girls are taken abroad to be cut during the school summer holidays, although this is also a crime under British law.

Campaigners say girls who have undergone FGM or are at risk may confide in teachers rather than contact the police or social services. They say alarm bells should ring if a girl talks about going on holiday for a special ceremony, or appears quiet and withdrawn after the summer break. 

FGM can make urination and menstrual periods very painful so teachers should also be alert if a girl takes long or frequent toilet breaks, regularly misses school, clutches herself in pain or cannot sit cross-legged on the floor.

survey by Britain's leading children's charity last year found very few teachers had received training on FGM. The charity, the NSPCC, called on schools to help teachers to deal with FGM as they would other forms of child abuse.

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