Today is the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation. This UN-sponsored awareness-raising day was set up in 2003 to combat what the UN refers to as the most ‘extreme form of discrimination against women and girls’.
This year, the day is marked by the official launch of the Red Triangle campaign, run by Freedom Charity, an organisation that raises awareness about ‘forced marriage, dishonour-based violence and female genital mutilation’. Freedom Charity’s main focus is on educating young people about these problems. Its logo of an upside-down red triangle has been made into a badge and is being distributed to schools and worn by celebrities.
Sale of the badges are being used to fund a new book aimed at schoolchildren, titled Cut Flowers. It is written by Aneeta Prem, founder of Freedom Charity. In 2011 she published But It’s Not Fair, a novel instructing young people on how to report cases of forced marriage to the Foreign Office. Cut Flowers is about FGM. It tells the story of two 11-year-old friends, Katie and Sophia, who work together to prevent Katie from falling victim to FGM. Katie’s family is from Africa, Sophia is from England. While Katie travels to Africa over the summer holidays and discovers that her family’s village is rife with FGM, Sophia enters an FGM-related competition run by Freedom Charity. The books description says: ‘Thus both girls are affected in different ways by FGM.’
The moral of the story seems to be: backward things happen in Africa, and we in the West must educate people about such practices. Cut Flowers says: ‘When Katie finally returns from Africa she needs all of Sophia’s support and creative flair to shine a spotlight on something that’s affecting millions of girls worldwide.’ Prem is clearly keen to avoid the rather obvious racist undertones of depicting a white Westerner as the saviour of a black African: she insists that the book ‘takes a holistic look at tradition, without being judgemental, understanding that it can enrich and educate while also sheltering atrocities such as FGM’.
Freedom Charity hopes to distribute Cut Flowers in schools, and is keen for it to be incorporated into PSHE lessons. The charity is supported by prime minister Theresa May and former education secretary Nicky Morgan, and Cut Flowers has been endorsed by Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers. With UN support for the cause and celebrities lining up to don the red-triangle badge, it seems the crusade to raise awareness about FGM and other awful practices will gather pace.