Update (10th February): Campaigners and MPs are calling for Sir Christopher Chope to be expelled from his party after he blocked a private members' bill aimed at protecting girls and young women in the UK from FGM.
After he shouted "object!" to block the FGM bill on Friday, Chope said that he had no issue with its substance, but wanted to ensure the legislation was properly debated, the BBC reports.
Labour MP Dawn Butler said after Chope's intervention: "It’s unacceptable that this dinosaur of a Tory MP consistently gets away with blocking new laws to protect the safety and rights of women. It’s time for the Tories to show they care about these issues by stripping him of the whip.”
Butler's fellow Labour MP David Lammy tweeted: "First he blocks making upskirting a criminal offence, now he objects to laws to protect children from genital mutilation. Why get into politics to do this? Christopher Chope embodies a brand of thoughtless, regressive conservatism which can ruin lives."
Chope's objection also been condemned by senior members of his own party, including Cabinet minister Liz Truss, who branded it "appalling" during a Sunday morning interview on Sky News.
Truss has also said she will seeking out Chope in the House of Commons this week.
Anti-FGM activist and survivor Nimco Ali, co-founder of the charity Daughters of Eve, told Sunday's Observer: "Senior cabinet ministers are saying what he’s done is completely unacceptable. His local Conservative association is fed up with him. He should have the whip removed and be deselected and if they [the Conservatives] have a vote of no confidence over him, then I’d be more than happy to come and speak."
Update (8th February): Sir Christopher Chope has blocked a private members' bill in the House of Commons on female genital mutilation (FGM), which supporters say would protect thousands of girls and young women in the UK. The 71-year-old Conservative MP also blocked Gina Martin's bill on banning upskirting photos in England and Wales, last year, which did eventually become law. Chope's obstruction has attracted widespread outrage, with anti-FGM activist and survivor Nimco Ali branding him an “embarrassment to your party and humanity” and politicians from across the political spectrum tweeting their disdain.
Just spent a couple of hours will brilliant young BME women hoping to become political activists with @MuslimWomenUK finished the training to the news that Christopher Chope just blocked #fgm bill. If only one of the women I met today had his seat in parliament!— Jess Phillips (@jessphillips) February 8, 2019
Christopher Chope, the MP who objected to the upskirting bill has reached a new low. Today he blocked new, stricter laws to protect children from FGM. Absolutely appalling behaviour. He is a disgrace to parliament, his constituency and women & children everywhere.— Tom Brake MP (@thomasbrake) February 8, 2019
This article was originally published on the 25th January.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) comes in and out of the news in the UK – public interest piques when new statistics are released or there's a harrowing case going through the courts – but once the furore dies down, young women and girls remain at risk of having their genitalia either partially or totally removed for non-medical reasons. Despite FGM being illegal in the UK since 1985, the first ever successful prosecution took place just this month.
Now, a parliamentary bill that would make it easier to protect girls and young women from FGM (and save lives) is close to being made law, and there's an easy way to ensure it goes through. The bill, which was introduced by the Labour peer Lord Michael Berkeley, would add FGM to the Children Act and make it easier for social services, hospitals and schools to intercept when a child is at risk.
Anti-FGM activist and survivor Nimco Ali has partnered with The Pink Protest collective (which up to now has focussed on period poverty) to raise awareness and support for the bill. All you need to do is sign the campaign's Change.org petition and put pressure on your MP to back the small, one-line amendment that could have huge consequences for the thousands of girls and young women in the UK living in fear of this barbaric practice. There's also a video you can share to raise awareness of what's happening.
"At present the Family Court can issue a care order for a child at risk of forced marriage or harm from a habitually drunk parent, but not for a young girl threatened with having her genitals mutilated," Lord Berkeley wrote in The Times earlier this month. "My bill amending the Children Act 1989 corrects this extraordinary oversight and thus passed unopposed through the Lords (a rare occurrence)."
The bill made it through the House of Lords on 19th November and was presented to the House of Commons the following day, where it was sabotaged by Conservative MP Christopher Chope, the same man who blocked the upskirting bill. (He says he objects to private members' bills despite pursuing many of his own.)
"The Children Act set the foundation for the protection of all children in the UK and the duty of care the government has to them. In not including FGM we are letting girls at risk down," Ali told Refinery29. "Adding FGM to this bill will not only make it even clearer that FGM is child abuse but it would also mean that children can be better protected," she said, adding that it would finally make the issue "everyone's business".
FGM is a social norm and if you've had it, you're more likely to think it's okay.
Nimco Ali, anti-FGM campaigner and survivor
While it's impossible to know how many girls and young women would be protected by the amendment, Ali believes it could also help to break the generational cycle. "There are 137,000 women in the UK living with FGM, and as being a survivor of FGM is a key fact of risk, all girls born to women who have had FGM could be at risk," she said. "FGM is a social norm and if you've had it, you're more likely to think it's okay. This doesn't mean all women who've had FGM will cut their daughters, as we've broken the cycle in my family, but girls born to women who have had FGM are more at risk."
Signing the petition, which had garnered almost 4,000 signatures by Monday morning, "will not only put pressure on the government, but it will also show how much the general public value the rights of girls at risk," Ali says. "When I was seven and I was subjected to FGM, I had no idea if people cared, but today I know and in signing this petition you will be standing with me and others and telling the world you care."
Scarlett Curtis, cofounder of The Pink Protest, and Ali have been working together for a few years as UN Global Goals Goalkeepers, and Curtis says the FGM campaign was the next natural step. "To me, ending FGM feels like one of the most important issues that modern feminists are facing and Nimco has proved that it genuinely has a solution," she told Refinery29.
"If we can take enough action over the next 10 years, FGM could be over by 2030. Our goal with The Pink Protest has always been to create campaigns that have genuine, concrete outcomes and getting this bill through parliament felt like something we could really push for."
Through talking to Lord Berkeley about the campaign, Curtis says she came to realise that online "clicktivism" shouldn't be dismissed as fruitless. "He told us that petitions really do make MPs realise just how much the public are pushing for an issue and can genuinely help to sway political opinion in one way or another. By signing our petition or tweeting or posting about putting FGM into the Children Act, you are directly telling MPs that the public wants this bill to go through."
To any MPs thinking about obstructing the amendment? "By excluding FGM from the Children Act you are essentially saying that the British government only wishes to protect some children. It is our responsibility as a country to protect all children – no matter their race, gender or religion."