SSJA SHORTLIST: Tweet Promoting FGM Faces Furious Backlash
This year, Gender Equal Media Scotland is sponsoring a Scottish Student Journalism Award to highlight the importance of treating women equally - as employees, as contributors and as subjects of media attention - to a new generation of journalists. Six entries made the shortlist and in the lead up to the awards ceremony - taking place on 30 May 2019 - we'll be publishing them here. We wish all the shortlisted authors the best of luck, and we hope you enjoy reading these pieces as much as we did.
Naina Bhardwaj is an English, Journalism and Creative Writing student at the University of Strathclyde and an aspiring journalist. She has work experience from across the media industry and is hoping to go on to do a Masters in International Journalism.
Twitter has faced backlash this month after a paid-for advert advocating for female genital mutation (FGM) on children was promoted on its website.
The video was posted by an Indian-based Shi’ite Muslim group called ‘Dawoodi Bohra Women for Religious Freedom,’ (DBWRF) which supports female circumcision or ‘khafz’, which it defines as making a cut to the girl’s clitoral hood.
They also argue that it should not be considered as FGM and that the procedure is a “simple and gentle process in which there is negligible, if any, pain.” However the World Health Organisation (WHO) considers even the smallest form of skin removal as type 1 FGM.
The tweet featured a video of group member Arwa Sohangpurwala saying: “My daughters have also undergone khafz, and they’re growing up as perfectly as other children of their age. As a mother, I can never do anything to harm them.”
Twitter users responded angrily to the tweet, blaming the social media site for allowing the group to pay for its promotion. Although the tweet was originally posted to the group’s 1,500 followers, the fact that it was promoted meant that users who weren’t following the account were able to see it on their timelines.
The video has now been viewed over 33,000 times.
Edinburgh based FGM activist, Fatou Baldeh said: “Any form of cutting or alteration to the female genitalia is FGM and hence child abuse. No other forms of child abuse will be promoted on line and FGM should not be different. We must treat FGM as what the violation girls.”
Following the uproar, Twitter cancelled the promotion with a Twitter spokesperson saying: “This was a promoted tweet and was removed for violation of our policies,” however the original post remains on the DBWRF account.
When asked to comment on the case, Samina Kanchwala, Secretary at the organisation said: “We stand by our decision to post this tweet. DBWRF is committed to conserving and guarding the religious rights of women. We do not consider khafz to be FGM but a form of painless female circumcision.”
Female circumcision has been illegal in the UK since 1985 and since 2003, taking a child out of the country to be cut carries a penalty of up to 14 years in prison. There is yet to be a conviction.
In 2013, the UK Department for International Development announced that they would be investing £35m to reduce the controversial practice by 30% in at least 10 priority countries over five years. Unicef estimates that over 200 million girls and women worldwide have undergone FGM procedures and the results of this investment are still due to be announced.
Now in 2018, the UK government has launched a campaign titled ‘Let’s Protect Our Girls’ to tackle FGM by distributing material about the potential consequences of the practice into communities where statistics suggest it is most prevalent.
However there remain few places in Scotland whereby advice on FGM can be sought. The Women’s Support Project is a feminist voluntary organisation is one of them. Based in Glasgow but working across Scotland, the charity aims to to raise awareness of the extent, causes and effect of violence against women which includes female circumcision.
They provide resources for both victims and the wider community including materials targeting schools.
If you have been affected by FGM, you can contact them here:
Women`s Support Project
12 Commercial Road
Telephone: 0141 418 0748
Fax: 0141 429 7496