Cuttin’ It, written by Charlene James, has been on a few different stages since 20th May 2016. If you are not already familiar with Cuttin’ It, please get your hands on a copy of the script. If you happen to live in London, please see this play at The Yard Theatre from 26th-30th July. Tickets are still available here.
I can count on one hand the number of times I have been stunned into silence. It is a rare occurrence that words fail me. It is unusual for me to have nothing to say. There are few times when I am affected by something so much that my lips do not move. Yesterday was one of those times.
As I entered the Royal Court Theatre to watch the production of Cuttin’ It, I was prepared for something heavy. I knew beforehand that this was a play about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). The NHS describes FGM as a “procedure where the female genitals are deliberately cut, injured or changed, but where there’s no medical reason for this to be done.”
The play tells the story of Muna and Iqra, two fifteen-year-old girls who attend the same school in England, having both been born in Somalia. The back of the book reads: The 47 bus to school. On the top deck sits Muna, chatting with her best friends about their idol Rihanna. Downstairs sits Iqra, alone and desperate to fit in.
With light-hearted quips and typical teenage banter, Cuttin’ It lulls you into a false sense of security. Don’t be fooled. This is not the happy coming-of-age story of two children finding friendship in one another. This is a heart-wrenching, eye-opening and tragic tale of the unadulterated pain of FGM. This is not just a criticism of the practices that occur worldwide, this is a damning indictment of what is happening in our own backyard — in our countries, in our schools, in our homes.
When the play ended, I sat in silence for nearly five minutes — still — except for the tears which involuntarily slid down my face. I was not the only one.
I will not discuss the play any more because I really encourage you to see it for yourself. However, I will not avoid the subject of FGM. If you don’t already know the statistics, according to UNICEF, more than 200 million girls and women alive today have been cut in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where FGM is concentrated. In the UK alone, 65,000 girls under 13 could be at risk of FGM and a case of FGM is reported in England on average every 109 minutes, as stated by Plan UK.
FGM is painfully misunderstood. Even for someone who is relatively engaged with these issues, I was appalled by how little I actually knew about FGM. There are multiple ways in which FGM occurs. As listed by the World Health Organisation, there are four main types:
- Type 1: Often referred to as clitoridectomy, this is the partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals), and in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).
- Type 2: Often referred to as excision, this is the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora (the inner folds of the vulva), with or without excision of the labia majora (the outer folds of skin of the vulva).
- Type 3: Often referred to as infibulation, this is the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the labia minora, or labia majora, sometimes through stitching, with or without removal of the clitoris (clitoridectomy).
- Type 4: This includes all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.
The fight against FGM is painfully underfunded. The Tackling FGM Initiative, which has given £2.8m of funding to community-based prevention schemes, warns that the lack of funding is a major barrier against tackling FGM altogether.
FGM is painfully unprosecuted. FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985, but in the more than 30 years during which it has been banned, there has been one — failed — prosecution of this injustice.
FGM is a priority in the ending of violence against women and girls (VAWG). FGM is child abuse. FGM is a key safeguarding issue. But putting labels on a phenomenon does not make it go away. We need children to be aware of what is happening to them and we need the resources to be able to combat it. There are plenty of initiatives which are aiming to do this, including this excellent video by FORWARDuk which uses needlecraft as an allegory to speak to children.
We need greater visibility. We need stronger legal justice. We need more action.
Opening the £3 book that I purchased just as I left the theatre, my eyes tear up again as I read the first page:
The European Parliament estimates 500,000 girls and women living in Europe are suffering with the lifelong consequences of female genital mutilation.
Amnesty International, 2014
This story is for them.
Featured image © YoungVicTheatre