Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (‘FGM/C’) has been part of the awareness raising work of the Soroptimist SIGBI federation since at least 2007 and possibly before. FGM/C has also been the subject of at least two Federation-wide statements and forms an integral part of the UK Programme Action Committee’s matrix which is sent quarterly to ministers in the UK government.
The work first came to prominence with a petition and letter writing campaign from SI Tenby and District. Over the last few years they have written over 3000 letters and collected several thousand signatures on their paper petition. They have been helped along the way with several other clubs in the UK such as SI Derby and SI Sunderland. The Northern Ireland Region has been instrumental in the letter writing campaign. Several clubs have targeted their letter writing at government Safeguarding Boards and lobbying MPs to find out why though the practice is illegal there have been no prosecutions to date. Clubs involved in this have included Swindon, King’s Lynn, Cambridge and Bournemouth.
Some clubs have watched the film “The Cutting Tradition” and this has led to many more choosing to work on what is for many a difficult project.
Many clubs are working on alternative rites of passage for girls. One of the popular projects here is the bracelet that is given to the young girl to mark her development into adulthood. SI Lancaster and SI Grange over Sands are active in this work. The bracelets are made by members who then work closely with a midwife who visits Kenya, working with girls who wish to end the practice there. Last time she visited she took with her 300 bracelets for distribution.
Other clubs help by raising money which then is used to train the midwives not to carry out FGM/C. SI Rugby raised funds to buy bags of rice which would be used to pay the tribal midwives not to carry out the operation.
One club started its work in 2009 after listening to Rose Simbo, a midwife from Sierra Leone who lives and works in the UK and is a member of SI Thames Valley. She spoke movingly about her work in Sierra Leone in the villages where she was trying to reverse the tradition of FGM/C. The results of that talk have been staggering. The club, SI Thames Valley, started by raising funds for tools and seeds so that 50 women could grow rice and peanuts which they could sell. This money would replace their wages as traditional cutters. By 2011 the project had grown and funds were being raised for a library in the village of Taiama. Then a second village came on board and eventually funds were being raised for 8 more villages in total. A school is being built so girls in these villages can go to secondary school. Whilst at their friendship link club SI Vancouver, a local school where the topic had been FGM/C raised a further US$4500 which women so they do not have to carry out FGM/C to make a living.