If you look up the word 'clitoris', you'll find it’s a masculine noun in French, Italian and Spanish. Lisa Zimmerman, cofounder of Integrate UK, a youth-based charity working towards equality and integration, thinks, "We need to do some reclaiming.” With their playful, yet incredibly important new video “#MyClitoris”, this is exactly what Integrate aims to do – reclaim not just the word, but a woman’s entire body. Female genital mutilation (FGM) has come to our attention in the last few years as one of the most serious human rights issues in the UK; in the first ever annual statistical publication on FGM, the NHS reported that England had 5,700 newly recorded cases of the practice between 2015 and 2016. In 18 of these instances, the procedure had been carried out in the UK, with around 10 of these cases being identified as Type 4 FGM. Type 4 FGM is little known about but is defined by the World Health Organisation as “pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterisation" of the female genitalia. While some women may choose to pierce their own clitoris, for others the procedure is forced upon them, including some as young as eight years old. The “#MyClitoris” video was created in response to an Economist article that argued for a form of Type 4 FGM to be performed in hospitals in the UK, on the grounds that “a symbolic nick from a health worker [is better than being] butchered in a back room by a village elder.” The video defiantly bites back: “No way I’m having a little nick”; “My clitoris is staying where it is” – hammering home that there is no way to justify mutilating girls and that no form of FGM is acceptable. An event in Bristol on Saturday marked the launch of the video and featured several panel discussions on the controversies surrounding Type 4 FGM, speeches from other organisations, including Oxford Against Cutting, and a number of inspired song and dance performances from the Integrate UK youth. I spoke to two girls who feature in the video, Nasra Ahmed, a 19-year-old politics and philosophy student and Cynthia Nchang, an 18-year-old aspiring singer. Both girls are outreach workers for Integrate UK.
Nasra and Cynthia emphasised the video’s message that women should have ownership over their own bodies. “It’s always about women and how to control their bodies and sexualities for the future husbands – for men,” says Cynthia. “It’s never about how to be a lady for yourself.” The excessive use of pink in the video is designed to mock society's expectations of girls. Cynthia clarifies: “We don’t love pink – that’s to show how ridiculous these expectations are.” Nasra continues: “The song is about telling us to reclaim our bodies and not letting men tell us what we can and can’t do with our bodies, especially in relation to the female genitalia.” The video also makes reference to the recent controversy over the burkini, with Nasra herself wearing a pink one. She tells me that, “As a Muslim, there’s a lot of pressure for women to speak up when it comes to burkinis and burkas, particularly clothing Muslim women wear, and I think the video captured the fact that we want freedom and we want a tolerant society.” She says it meant a lot to her to take part because “I want women of all backgrounds to be able to wear what they want without being judged.” "#MyClitoris" features a range of women – and even men – with different styles, backgrounds and sexual orientations, which Nasra thinks is important because it shows that “even though we’ve got different backgrounds, we can celebrate and stand up for each other.” Cynthia points out that Type 4 FGM is not necessarily limited to Muslim communities, either, and reminds me that, sometimes, it can even be cosmetic – take the increased prevalence of labiaplasty in some Western countries. She laments: “To make it look acceptable to who? It’s your body.”
As a completely youth-led charity, Integrate is unique in its approach, using arts to allow young people to express themselves in a lighthearted way. Among Integrate’s successes is the campaign – led by the remarkable 19-year-old activist Fahma Mohamed – that convinced Michael Gove to write to every school in the UK about the dangers of FGM. Looking to the future, the charity's next goal is to raise awareness of – and hopefully combat – honour crimes, of which there were 11,000 recorded cases in the UK between 2010 and 2014. Lisa tells me that this is something the young people of Integrate are passionate about, because the concept of ‘honour’ affects their everyday lives. “There’s a line in the #MyClitoris song, ‘A guy saw me wearing jeans, had a go at my dad’: that happened to one of the girls very recently, a man said, ‘I saw your daughter wearing jeans, she looked like a whore.’ It’s that fear of: ‘What are the neighbours gonna say?’ and it’s always around the girls.” For everyone I spoke to at the launch, the video seemed to resonate. One of the boys in the video, Sahib Ollah-Raj, a 17-year-old outreach worker and activist at Integrate UK, says: “I’ve grown up in an urban area and people are stereotyped and judged everyday. I’ve been judged and not for all the right reasons.” He thinks it’s really important for men to take part because “We can only be stronger if we’re supporting each other – now that guys like myself are getting involved, it’s only going to get bigger and there’s only going to be more changes, faster.” Lisa says that everyone at Integrate is immensely proud of the video, and hopes "it will give people the chance to realise that asking for a form of FGM that is ‘okay’ is equivalent to asking, ‘How much child sexual exploitation can I get away with?’ - and that there is no negotiation around a girl’s right to physical autonomy over her body.” @AmberRoberts6