Break the silence: The fight against FGM

A woman must have the right to choose what happens to her own body. Female pleasure is not a luxury, it is a fundamental human right.

Every seven seconds, a girl is at risk of being cut, and it can cause life-threatening conditions. It is not religious. It is not a medical practice. It is gender inequality.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) describes any deliberate, non-medical removal or cutting of the female genitalia. The World Health Organization describes FGM as any procedure that injures the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. It has no health benefits and is in fact very harmful to health in many ways.

We are a brand with purpose. We are female founded and female owned, run by a team of phenomenal women. We care about women’s rights and we want to reach as many people as possible with our message - to shine a light on the importance of female pleasure. FGM is a direct disabler of that pleasure, so we take it to heart.

“I was inspired by reading books written by Waris Dirie (a former model and FGM survivor) and worked with her Desert Flower Foundation a few years ago to help support, empower and educate women. As a trustee of Nimco Ali’s The Five Foundation, I hope to continue to use my platform to raise a greater awareness of this inhumane practice and push towards change. 

FGM is about power and control. Control over women, over their bodies, over their sexuality. I absolutely believe that a woman must have the right to choose what happens to her own body, no matter where she is from or where she lives. Until all women have access to education and independence they will not be in a position to stand up to these harmful traditions. We need education to empower girls and educate boys to help change the culture. It is interesting how some men or cultures feel they need to control women’s pleasure.“ 

Lucy Litwack, Owner & CEO, Coco de Mer.

No religious texts support FGM. There is no science to bolster any benefits, purely the horrendous impact. The aim is to make sex painful for women and disable their pleasure, to ensure a lesser being, and a subservient way of life. Health risks and consequences are irrelevant, it is about dismantling a built-in human experience, which is deemed unsuitable for the recipient of this mutilation. 

To the people behind this barbaric act, the female orgasm is a terrifying thing. If a woman is allowed to enjoy having sex, what else could she achieve? Cutting off her clitoris and thereby attempting to eliminate her ability to experience pleasure is another way of taking away her power, and a powerful woman is a dangerous thing to these people. 

FGM is frequently dressed up in cultural way, but quite simply, it is child abuse. It is wrong to take a child against her will and mutilate her for the sake of preserving her for a man. FGM condemns many to a lifetime of pain and suffering, the possibility of infertility and a higher risk of death in childbirth. 

What can be done?

Whilst it is the female of the species who is the recipient of this heinous act, it is not simply a woman’s problem. It’s a humanity problem. It’s gender inequality. And it has to stop. 

Education and communication are crucial.

Given the wrongful association with religious cultures, we need those senior figures to actively condone the practice, across all religions. The shift this would make would be monumental.

In the UK, schools are bringing in compulsory lessons to teach children from the age of 5 about same-sex families as well as staying safe online and developing healthy, respectful relationships. Secondary school pupils will receive classes on relationships and sex, including education about the ‘catastrophic’ damage caused by FGM, the risks of sexting, online grooming, domestic violence and forced marriage. Pupils will be told that FGM is illegal. The New Humanitarian published a brilliant article about educating school pupils about FGM and extremism, click here to read the piece.

We need to break the silence of this taboo, encouraging survivors to talk about their experiences, helping psychological wounds heal. And on a practical day to day level, for survivors, some women don’t realise the pain they suffer is related to FGM. In 2022, LadBible shared a moving interview with Shamsa Araweelo, a survivor of FGM, in which she shares her memories of the experience and the horrific repercussions. To date it has been viewed over 645,000 times. Be it through the media or at home, sharing freely will break down those little taboos that cause further harm to a survivor’s confidence, and enable more acceptance, understanding, and hopefully, pleasures. Only through representation can conversations be had that inform women and allow them to accept that pleasure by nature is ever-changing, untamed and should be embraced.

Alongside this, we know policy and societal structures are key enforcers of change. The Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa (‘the Maputo Protocol’) has recently celebrated 20 years since its establishment. This progressive act is an invaluable educator, guaranteeing extensive rights to African women and girls and includes progressive provisions on a spectrum of factors that will help empower women in all walks of society and culture.

As a company, we believe in using our voice, our energy and our position to support organisations that align with enabling female pleasure and empowerment, with heartfelt respect, care and tenacity. 

We are proud supporters of The Five Foundation, working tirelessly to end the antiquated use of FGM, and supporting the development of girls and young women. We are also incredibly proud to support Equality Now - Using the law to protect and promote the rights of women and girls around the world.

“An orgasm, female pleasure, is something I have been told doesn’t belong to me, that I shouldn’t own, but it does and I want it, so I protect it with my life.”

Nimco Ali, OBE

Co-founded by Nimco Ali OBE, The Five Foundation is the leading advocacy and communications partnership of nearly 100 groups, working to elevate and locally fund efforts to end FGM on the African continent and beyond. The mission is to see FGM ended by 2030, and with 70 million girls at risk over the next decade, ending FGM will mean systemic change through decolonising aid and funding grassroots women activists.  As a result of this phenomenal foundation, laws have been changed or enacted in Sudan, Kenya and Egypt, improvements have been made to UK policies on child marriage, FGM, virginity testing and on prioritising women and girls as part of international policy - including at the G7. To say they inspire us is quite the understatement, but Nimco’s piece in Grazia on Day of the Girl, and her contribution to our ‘Pleasure Principle’ panel discussion are just a few examples of why we are so moved by the work and people at the heart of the foundation.

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a collection of 17 interlinked objectives designed to serve as a "shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future”. We are proudly aligned with a few of the SDGs, two of which are brilliant channels for the efforts to end FGM:

Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

Goal 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

Until women have access to education and independence they will not be in a position to stand up to these harmful traditions. FGM will only be abolished if women’s socio-political situation as a whole is taken into account. With the SDG agenda targeting 2030, the momentum is building and we are committed to being a part of this inspiring movement.

FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985, and since 2003 it has been illegal to take a UK National out of the country for FGM. And yet, 21 out of every 1000 women in London are victims of FGM. Law is not enough against a practice that goes back centuries. Global momentum is needed. And it is happening. 

Since July 2015, a total of 296 FGM protection orders have been made to protect girls at risk. Whilst this may sound small, the significance is truly life-changing.

In April, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee signed a new landmark bill into law to protect women and children from FGM - given the magnitude of this state and the position of power it holds, the message this sends is bold and optimistic for a new era of equality. 

It is my hope that the UK will go even further and put gender equality principles at the heart of its foreign policy. This will mean prioritising girls education and ending sexual violence around the world, but also ensuring that funding is available for women to access economic justice, and be meaningfully included in peace-building, politics and other positions of leadership and decision-making.” 

Nimco Ali, OBE

Female pleasure has always been at the forefront of Coco de Mer’s values and anything that gets in the way of that needs addressing. We hope that by using our platform and our voices, we can make people really listen to what is still happening around the world to so many girls. We need to break the silence and educate everyone.

There are over 1.1 billion girls poised to take on the future we are creating. Here's to helping them in any way we can.

Watch our 2020 campaign video with Waris Dirie and the Desert Flower Foundation below.