25,000 women in UK at risk of female genital mutilation

Julia Lalla-Maharajh is the Founder and Chief Executive of Orchid Project, a charity which aims to raise awareness of the practice of female genital mutilation. Her views do not necessarily reflect those of ITV News.

The helpline is a real step forward for an organisation like the NSPCC and it is great to see such action from such a large charity. The issue of female genital cutting or FGC has been a concern for a very long time and it's an issue which doesn't get the exposure that it needs.

Studies have shown that in the UK there are 25,000 girls and women who are at risk from being forced to undergo this procedure.

It is such a taboo topic that it is very difficult to work out exactly how many women have had the operation, but hopefully the helpline will enable many of them to come forward.

Julia Lalla-Maharajh in Senegal
Julia Lalla-Maharajh in Senegal. Credit: Orchid Project

There is social pressure within certain communities and families in the UK to have their daughters undergo this procedure. But social pressures can change.

In China, for hundreds of years they would bind the feet of their daughters because it was believed to be more desirable.

It took only 20 years for the practice to cease, with the final case being recorded in China in 1919. But in 1949 a Chinese girl was found with bound feet in Los Angeles. It can take time for communities to let go of their traditions.

Sister Fa, a musician who is supported by the charity gives a class on female genital mutilation
Sister Fa, a musician who is supported by the charity gives a class on female genital mutilation Credit: Orchid Project

Outside of the UK there is a real grassroots movement which is rapidly reducing the practice.

In Europe around half a million women and girls are affected, while 130 million women and girls are affected worldwide.

The UK Government are stepping up to the plate by providing £35 million to fund campaigns which tackle the issue. For such a small charity which has been campaigning to raise awareness of this issue for so long we are very optimistic about the future.

Julia Lalla-Maharajh speaking about Project Orchid event at speaking at The Funding Network in London
Julia Lalla-Maharajh speaking about Project Orchid event at speaking at The Funding Network in London Credit: Orchid Project