The purpose of this lecture series - besides being regular fun astronomical evenings - is to raise funds to help end female genital mutilation.
Female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as female genital cutting (FGC), is the cutting away - often without anaesthetic or with sterile equipment - of a girl's external genitals. There are four main types. This is generally done as a traditional or cultural practice, for examle to improve a girl's marriage prospects, to ensure she is a virgin when she marries, to promote chastity and family honour, or maintain cultural or religious identity. Most commonly this is done to girls when they are small children, usually from infancy up until the age of 15.
FGM is not a medical procedure. There are no health benefits - it is dangerous and harmful. Short-term effects may include intense pain, infection, shock, injury to adjacent tissue, urine retention, etc. Long-term effects may include psychological trauma, vulnerability to cysts and infection, problems with menstruation and urinating, fistula, danger in sexual intercourse and childbirth, and often the frequent need to be re-cut and sewn up again for these last two.
Although this is not always believed to be the case, FGM is not required by any religion. The practice sometimes occurs simply out of a fear of social exclusion. Communities, especially "diaspora" or displaced, may feel the need to continue the practice to maintain their identity. An effective method of ending the practice involves an entire community making a collective decision to do so.
In 1997, the World Health Organisation, UNICEF and UNFPA issued a joint statement against the practice. You can download a longer statement (48 page PDF) by several more organisations, written in 2008, here.
The Orchid Project
Daughters of Eve
28 Too Many
FGM also occurs in the UK, where it is estimated that over 20,000 girls a year will be taken abroad to undergo the procedure abroad or at "FGM parties" in UK cities. There have even been cases of French families attempting to take their daughters to the UK to be cut. It is illegal in France and the UK to carry out the procedure or to ask for it to be done to your child, or to arrange for it to take place abroad. There have been over 100 prosecutions in France, but not a single one in the UK.
FGM has been very much in the news during summer 2012:
BBC: Hidden world of female genital mutilation in the UK
Huffington Post: As primary school children look forward to the holidays, thousands could be facing the summer cutting season
Independent: Victory in sight for revolution over female genital mutilation
Guardian: British girls undergo horror of genital mutilation despite tough laws (Note: This article is from 2010. Estimates then were that up to 2,000 girls were at risk. The number has now leaped to over 20,000.)
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
"It is not politically correct to continue ignoring the plight of ethnic minority women" - Iram Ramzan
"The racism of the respectable" - Nick Cohen
"Stop FGM in Britain" - e-petitions
I am a great enthusiast of astronomy, science communication, and human rights. As I love giving astronomy talks, I have opted to do this for a small charge in order to raise funds for the Orchid Project and Daughters of Eve. I also hope to raise for 28 Too Many and Forward UK if the lectures go well for enough time. Representatives from all these charities are invited to attend the lectures, interact with the audience, give brief talks themselves, and distribute material.
My aims are to raise awareness and encourage communication about this practice, especially across cultures, and to raise funds for the above charities.
My great thanks to the Orchid Project for inspiration, to Newington Green Unitarian Church for offering me their venue, and to Roberta Wedge for finding this venue and putting them and me in touch.