Debate on the future of Jobcentre Plus

The DWP are planning to close Cambuslang job centre, and many many more across Scotland, with the Glasgow region experiencing much harsher cuts than elsewhere. This will be devastating for so many people already struggling to get by while trying to avoid being sanctioned too. Clare spoke about the future of the Jobcentre Plus network in Scotland:

The speech

The term “FGM” is a sanitised one that allows us to talk about female genital mutilation without dealing with each of those three words. Mutilation of young women leaves physical and mental scars that last a lifetime for the victims and for the communities that practise it. Let us be clear that FGM involves performing “surgery” on the genitals of young women and girls. Procedures can involve cutting off parts of the labia and clitoris or stitching up the vulva or vaginal opening. The procedures offer zero medical benefits; all that they guarantee is pain and suffering. They are performed by families who believe that FGM must be carried out, that it is the right thing to do and that FGM is the key to maintaining respectability and standing in their community. Often, the young girls themselves see it as a rite of passage from childhood to becoming a woman.

In reality, however, FGM is used to ensure that a woman is culturally acceptable, to uphold family honour and tradition and to ensure that a woman is seen as suitable for her permitted role as a wife. By damaging her genitals, a community can damage her ability to have sexual relationships and can ensure that sex, instead of being a natural part of human expression, is painful and unpalatable for her. In essence, it is a way of controlling women’s sexual behaviour. The young women who experience this violence suffer in painful and perhaps more obvious physical ways. They have difficulty urinating, sexual problems, problems in childbirth and wounds that become infected and lead to further complications.

What about the other wounds that are inflicted? Levels of post-traumatic stress disorder are the same among survivors of FGM as among those who have been subject to childhood abuse. Research has shown that anger, pain and sadness continue through later life for women and that on-going chronic stress, anxiety disorders and sleep problems are common in survivors.

A number of studies have touched on the impact on the survivor, but I want to consider the impact that the abuse has on the community as a whole. How many mothers who themselves have experienced FGM come to decide on FGM for their daughters? Violence affects not only the victims but the perpetrators. Those who arrange or are complicit in inflicting FGM on children have often experienced FGM themselves. It begets a cycle of abuse in which mutilation is the norm and the pain and suffering that are caused are less important than is being seen to fit in. FGM as a way of policing women’s bodies is a double crime: it is inflicted on young women; then those young women themselves become party to inflicting it on the next generation. How many of those are true choices, free of coercion by and the influence of the woman’s wider group?

When we tackle FGM—as we should—we should remember the full cost that we are asking young women to pay when they share what has happened to them. We are asking them not only to admit what has been done to them and to discuss their bodies with strangers and people from outside their community, but to admit that their community—their family—has been party to what happened. When we acknowledge a crime, by extension we acknowledge that those who committed it are criminals. For young girls who have experienced FGM, talking about it contributes to the huge burden of emotional and psychological damage that they already carry from the abuse.

Although the crimes are carried out to ensure honour, there is nothing honourable in violence and abuse. Underreporting of FGM is strongly suspected, which ties in with other forms of abuse that entwine fear, love, loyalty and propriety to create an emotional net that prevents women from speaking about what has been done to them. We need to empower women to talk openly about those threats and experiences, especially girls who are at risk and those in communities who know that girls are at risk of FGM. That is especially true, given that studies have shown that women who have experienced FGM tend to develop psychological conditions that make them withdrawn, uncommunicative or distrustful. The women whose voices we need to hear the most are those who are most likely to be silenced by their experience.

Committing FGM is a crime and I am proud that the Scottish Government has been forthright in condemning it. I am heartened today to hear so many members do that too. We need to consign female genital mutilation to history and we will do that by ensuring that the crime is policed and through joined-up thinking about public services and support for the women who are affected.

The Scottish Refugee Council has identified 24,000 people born in an FGM-practising country who live in Scotland, with nearly 9,000 of them living in Glasgow. Any such small communities will need support to adjust to life here in a country that has more developed and proactive public services. We must reach out and engage with all communities, but especially when there is the potential for FGM. We must communicate to women, young and old, that genital mutilation is wrong and that, whatever the practices of the past, it is not acceptable in Scotland.

We must also seek to amplify the voices of women in those communities who are already standing up against FGM and empower young women to support each other in their communities. I welcome the Scottish Government funding that projects such as the Kenyan women in Scotland association and Rape Crisis Glasgow’s FGM survivor support service are benefiting from to drive forward the equality agenda in 2016-17, and I welcome all steps that this Government takes to tackle all forms of violence that seek to control women’s bodies and police women’s behaviour under the corrosive banner of “honour”.

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