Why UK government’s £50 million investment into ending FGC is so vital

by Julia Lalla-Maharajh | Orchid Project
Friday, 23 November 2018 15:30 GMT

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Let's hope this commitment will motivate other donors from around the world to accelerate efforts to end female genital cutting

Julia Lalla-Maharajh is the founder of the Orchid Project, which campaigns against female genital cutting.

The headlines are splashed big today across the UK news: "UK makes biggest investment to end FGM in Africa".

Messages from around the world are being exchanged across social media: “excellent investment for women and girls.”

This echoes my sentiments exactly - for once, some good news - and for very many reasons.

This historic announcement from the UK Department for International Development (DFID) represents a ray of light in a world that so often does not prioritise girls, their bodies and their sexual and reproductive health and rights. Put simply, the UK government is doing what’s right for women’s bodies; and we are therefore one step closer to achieving a world free from female genital cutting (FGC).

But why is this announcement so important? There is little detail yet on what DFID’s £50 million commitment will go to, but the headline information is promising:

  • This investment will support community-level projects to shift attitudes toward abandonment of FGC. Orchid Project has long championed grassroots work. If we don’t work at the community level, we are ignoring the fact that decisions around whether to cut a girl or not are made at the family, household level.
  • DFID’s announcement shows ambition to fund grassroots activists and youth initiatives with small grants to “lead change and hold their own governments to account,” which is vital in work to end FGC, as we know that nearly one in three girls worldwide will be born in the 30 countries where the practice is concentrated by 2030.
  • There’s a commitment to continue working with the UN and governments to make sure that legislation is in place and strengthened.
  • The UK Government has also emphasised the importance of funding work that ensures medical workers do not cut girls. Given that globally over 20% of girls are cut by health care practitioners, this is incredibly important.

What is so inspiring and brings me great hope on first looking at this package of funding is that is seems to be truly holistic in nature. DFID recognises FGC as a social norm, held in place by a confluence of different actors and expectations. This recognition has guided them to look at different entry points to ending the practice; through working at the grassroots and with health workers, youth, activists and religious leaders.

Equally inspiring is the scale of this funding. This £50 million is a serious commitment. We can only hope that this will motivate other donors from around the world to accelerate efforts to end FGC.

What we have yet to see is which countries will be eligible for funding, and what DFID’s commitment to supporting work at the grassroots actually means in practice. While this is fantastic news for the Africa-led movement to end FGC, we are still missing largescale recognition that the practice takes place outside Africa, in the Middle East and Asia, with at least 15 million affected girls living in Indonesia.

What’s more, FGC has long been neglected by large trusts and foundations. Perhaps the UK government’s £50 million message will give them the confidence to invest in girls’ futures and stand up for their human rights in a committed and serious manner.

We can take great encouragement from DFID’s pioneering announcement today. I hope that this is just one step by one government of many from around the world that I urge to do what is right. Prioritise women and girls’ bodies, rights, sexuality and health, so that all girls everywhere can live free from FGC.