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On Saturday, on International Women’s Day, at the Women of the World Festival at London’s Southbank Centre, Lynne Featherstone, the development minister, will outline the government’s programme to reduce female genital mutilation (FGM) by 30% in 10 countries across Africa over the next five years. While the audience will be predominantly British, this recognises that the mutilation of hundreds of thousands of girls’ bodies a year is undoubtedly a global problem, to which we need a global solution.

Up to 70% of all girls and women coping with the devastating effects of FGM live north of the equator in Africa. It is also true that many of the British girls at risk of mutilation will be taken to have the procedure performed in their parents’ countries of origin. The truth is: we cannot eradicate FGM in the UK without ending it everywhere else that it happens, as the Guardian’s commendable campaign against FGM has recognised. That is why the Department for International Development’s renewed focus on women’s rights under Justine Greening’s leadership is both welcome and vitally important.

It is also why international development agencies have a crucial role to play in the fight against FGM. ActionAid works in countries where “cutting” is rife.At the request of local activists we are educating communities about its devastating effects, and seeing real results. We provide direct support to girls escaping mutilation and our programmes reach thousands of survivors and continue to save lives. Our experience shows that if we are to see an end to the mutilation of girls in our lifetime, we must fight FGM and all other aspects of violence against girls and women wherever that takes place and with every tool at our disposal.
Rowan Harvey
Women’s rights adviser, ActionAid UK

• The Guardian’s coverage of the campaign against FGM highlights what a serious violation of human rights the practice is. The Equality and Human Rights Commission welcomes the government’s recent commitment to end this abuse. However, we are concerned that the steps proposed are not sufficient. I have written to Norman Baker, the minister responsible, to let him know that a more robust approach is needed if the state is to meet its obligations.

This would include developing a national strategy to prevent FGM, which would be overseen by a single body. Any strategy should incorporate proper enforcement of existing sanctions against professionals who fail to report children at risk of or victims of FGM. As a national human rights institution, this commission is well placed to be the single body overseeing this.

The commission is clear that public authorities responsible for taking action on FGM should not be deterred by concerns around “cultural sensitivity”. FGM can never be excused by reference to cultural practices that are inconsistent with human rights.

Education and awareness-raising are essential if we are to tackle these attitudes and protect those at risk. We are therefore concerned that the £100,000 fund identified for charities to do this is inadequate.The commission has this week provided a submission to the home affairs select committee on FGM, setting out its position.
Onora O’Neill
Chair, Equality and Human Rights Commission

• Could someone please explain to me why Michael Gove is writing to all schools about FGM? Would it not be more sensible for the government to contact all social services departments and police departments. Surely FGM is illegal in the UK. If not, it should be.
Joyce Morgan

• Your story (Report reveals ‘extensive’ violence against women in EU, 5 March) provides extensive evidence of the extent to which women are physically and/or sexually abused across Europe. The size and scale of the problem has been fairly well hidden up until now because of a lack of data collection at a national level. For the very first time, policymakers have comparable EU-level data.

But we must keep monitoring the issue through continuing research. Collecting data using surveys, as the EU’s Agency for Fundamental Rights has done, can be costly and time-intensive. What we need now is to build on this with more centralised data collection by the EU countries.

We need different types of data to better understand the prevalence of incidents of violence against women and the contexts in which it occurs. Survey data doesn’t tell us much about the political and/or law enforcement response to the issue. Survey data doesn’t provide indications of what is working and what isn’t to tackle the problems, whereas administrative data, unlike survey data, is not based on a sample, but includes all cases or incidents that authorities – be it in the police, justice, or health system – are made aware of. This is widely recognised as an important factor for all research into violence against women across the EU and will feature in a forthcoming report prepared by Matrix Knowledge for the European Institute for Gender Equality. To better protect women and girls against violence, we must become better informed and one way is to ensure the use of different types of data in future research.
Jacque Mallender
Matrix Knowledge

• It is heartening to see domestic violence being covered in such depth by the Guardian, particularly in relation to high-risk victims who are at serious risk of harm or murder. Sadly, the situation is far more grave than your article suggests. First, our research shows that there are more like 100,000 high-risk victims – 10 times the figure in your article. Second, only about half of these victims who live with physical, sexual, and emotional abuse get any support at all.

We work with teams around the country who try and protect these women and their children. In the past 12 months, there were almost 50,000 high-risk victims with more than 60,000 children who did receive specialist support. These victims were identified – over half by the police but, crucially, also from those working with children and independent charities. Unquestionably, the police have a vital role to play in protecting those women who contact them for help.

However, without the active engagement of health professionals, in particular, we will continue to fail women and their children and miss the “hidden” 50,000. In the week when the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence published guidelines for health and social care professionals about responding to domestic violence, we hope very much that this might mark a turning point in attitudes which continue to see domestic violence as “someone else’s problem”. Without this, your paper will continue to have to report on more such tragedies for many years to come.
Diana Barran
Chief executive, Co-ordinated Action Against Domestic Abuse © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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