I want to thank all of you for being here today. This has been an incredible event, and I want to thank everybody involved in organising it. We’re here, because, every day, millions of girls and women around the world still find their voices silenced, their lives put at risk and their freedom and rights denied – simply because of their gender.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) - or cutting - and child, early and forced marriage (CEFM) are 2 of the oldest and most extreme ways in which societies have sought to control the lives and bodies of young women and girls.
Yet, for thousands of years, those with power and influence have turned a blind eye to these practices, ignoring the pain of the women affected and also the activists who have found the courage to speak out and fight against this violence.
Thanks to committed campaigners - inspirational young women such as Hannah and Farwa, who are here with us today - and passionate advocates like Jasvinder Sanghera, Freida and my Liberal Democrat colleague Lynne Featherstone - that conspiracy of silence is finally being broken.
These incredible women are challenging outdated cultural norms, tackling prejudice and pushing the world to do more to empower women and girls with the freedom, education and equal rights they deserve.
Take the vital work of Karma Nirvana, led by Jasvinder, who I met last week.
This charity is leading a campaign, in partnership with Cosmopolitan magazine, to establish a national day of memory in the UK for all the women killed due to honour-based violence.
The women and girls subjected to child, early and forced marriage are told that no-one cares. That they have no power and to say “No I won’t let you do this to me! means dishonour, isolation, violence or death. By remembering the young women affected, we can show those most vulnerable that they are not alone; that together, we can change things – and I’m grateful to each of you who have shown your support today.
As the name of this final session says, “This is everybody’s business”. This is one of the most important messages that we need to get out there: that FGM and forced marriage aren’t just ‘women’s problems’. These practices aren’t just confined to the developing world. They impact every single one of us and no country can afford to ignore them.
For example, FGM and forced marriage are already illegal in the UK and many countries. Yet, according to our latest figures released today, here in the UK, there are an estimated 137,000 women who have been cut.
And, every year, around 60,000 young girls are at risk of being cut. 60,000 – that is roughly the equivalent of all the pupils in 60 UK secondary schools. On forced marriage, the UK’s Forced Marriage Unit gave advice or support related to over 1,300 possible cases in 2013 alone. These are just the cases that we know about.
These facts should infuriate every Briton.
Around the world, we’re talking about millions of girls. In some cases, babies just a few months old are being taken to be cut: causing them a lifetime of excruciating pain, trauma and serious health complications.
While young girls forced to marry against their will are more likely to experience violence and domestic abuse - their education disrupted and childhood stolen.
Enough is enough
Today’s summit is about all of us – governments, international organisations, NGOs, activists, faith groups, businesses like Nike, community leaders, the media, wider public and people affected by these practices - saying enough is enough. Together, we can kick start a global movement to end female genital mutilation and forced marriage once and for all, wherever they occur.
And it will take all of us – men, women, boys and girls.
So, our Summit has 3 main objectives:
- first, to inspire the next generation of young activists to fight for change
- second, to secure commitments for strong global action
- third, to recognise and share best practice
In each of these areas, we’ve taken some important first steps.
Committed to action
Last Saturday, 200 young people from across the world came together at the UK government’s Youth for Change event to share and develop ideas and inspire each other to act. Today, we heard from some of those future leaders setting out what these issues mean to them and what they want to see happen next.
As a father to 3 young boys, I’m particularly conscious of the difference that I can make as a parent: teaching my children to challenge prejudice and discrimination wherever it occurs and to always treat everyone as their equal.
UNICEF data shows that increasing the awareness and support of young boys and men is essential to securing the long-term positive change we want in communities across the world.
And, over the last few days, we’ve seen almost a hundred thousand messages from men and women sent in support of this Summit and our work, across Facebook, Twitter and other social media. This includes from leading advocates such as Malala, Melinda Gates, Caitlin Moran, Stephen Fry and Desmond Tutu – each reaching out to millions of people.
Girl Summit Charter
Critically, this support is also being backed up with official action, and I want to thank Justine and her team for all they’ve done to galvanise that action. So far, over 235 organisations from around 60 countries have signed the Girl Summit Charter (pdf), including 30 national governments.
This document sets out a powerful call to end both forced marriage and FGM. It sits alongside other important national announcements made today including a commitment from the Ethiopian government to eliminate FGM and child, early and forced marriage by 2025, and by the government of Nepal to work closely with adolescent girls and boys, as well as community-based organisations and interfaith networks to end child marriage.
Central to all of this, of course, are the doctors, nurses, teachers and legal professionals who need to be equipped to identify and support young women and girls at risk of FGM. Today, we’ve heard powerful testimonies from frontline professionals like Professor Quenby telling us about the challenges they’ve faced in dealing with this issue.
All of them agree that - without the right knowledge, skills and experience - people feel like they don’t have the cultural understanding and authority to even talk about this practice honestly, never mind intervene when they’re worried someone is vulnerable.
Better training and guidance
That’s why I’m pleased to announce that the UK government will be introducing new guidance and training for frontline public sector workers such as midwives, GPs, social workers, police officers and prosecutors, alongside more detailed advice to help teachers recognise the signs of FGM abuse and prevent more women and girls getting cut.
Furthermore, we intend to put this support on a statutory footing - subject to the necessary consultation - to make it a compulsory part of training in public sector organisations and ensure that their staff have the expertise they need to identify, talk about and report these problems.
It’s something that I, with Lynne Featherstone, Norman Baker, Stephen Williams and the rest of my party, have been particularly keen on. We see training in detection and prevention as an essential accompaniment to the Prime Minister’s announcements today about parental liability and consultation on mandatory reporting of FGM.
First and foremost, this is a child protection issue and, to put it bluntly, we all need to be doing more to stop this happening.
Challenging the myth that FGM is a religious or cultural necessity is key to us ending this practice and, earlier this year, Norman and Lynne met with faith leaders from across the UK to discuss what more we could do together to secure change.
Following that faith summit, I’m pleased to announce today that almost 300 UK faith leaders from all the major faiths have signed a declaration condemning FGM.
Within this powerful document, they declare that FGM is not required by their religions and is a form of child abuse.
We are now building on this success with a declaration for faith and community leaders to signal their opposition to forced marriage.
And we will work with them to promote and publicise these declarations as far and wide as we can, helping them to turn their words into action.
Both declarations remain open for signatures, and I would encourage those from all faiths who haven’t yet signed to show their support.
In addition, we’re investing £30,000 to support a group of Community Champions across the country. These could be professionals responsible for keeping girls safe or ordinary people trusted and respected in their communities who can reach out to those affected and help us protect them.
So, in conclusion, we are committed to ending FGM and forced marriage. But this is just the start. Now, we need to deliver. We need to stand up alongside those dedicating their lives to ending this abuse. We need to be there for the women and girls still at risk.
That’s the only way we’ll secure the world we all want: a fairer society where everyone, whatever their background, circumstances or gender, gets the opportunity to fulfill their potential and build the happy, healthy and secure future they deserve.