Exclusive Interview: Justine Greening MP On Why Ending FGM Starts Here, And Now

We caught up with Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening during a pause at today’s groundbreaking Girl Summit.

Prime Minister David Cameron earlier announced some encouraging plans to take the movement for women and girls’ rights to the next level, including legislation against parents who enable FGM and liability to those who turn a blind eye. Furthermore, the government has pledged education, more funding for charities, NHS-backed FGM-prevention units and lifelong anonymity to protect the identity of survivors.

Given that 137,000 women in the UK alone are living with the consequences of FGM, some might say it’s about time, too.

We caught up with Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening during a pause at today’s groundbreaking Girl Summit.

Today is a good day for girls, right?

‘Definitely. It has exceeded my expectations in terms of the commitments we’re seeing made by countries all over the world but also the sheer energy and inspiration an event like this gives all of us. There’s this clear sense of tapping into an issue that really matters and that we haven’t talked about nearly enough.’

It’s true. So why have we had to wait so long to kick off the conversation?

‘The issue of women’s rights is the greatest unmet human challenge that we still face. But the time has come, right now. Whether it’s because we’re now a more multicultural society so it has become more relevant to us in the UK, or because of greater awareness, what was once an issue on the fringes that people didn’t know much about or talk about, has now been plonked into the mainstream of British politics. To have the Prime Minister, who is a man, talking about it today is massively powerful. Men and boys are saying “We don’t want this either” and that’s a huge step in the right direction.’

Despite the cabinet reshuffle, there still aren’t nearly enough women in parliament, does that mean you feel pressure to be the person to shine a light on girls’ issues?

‘In my role it is really important, of course. But what I feel strongly about is that boys and men are equally engaged. You only have to look around today to see that it’s happening.’ (The 600-strong crowd at Girl Summit is still majority female but, she’s right, around 40 per cent are men, which is encouraging.)

Today has brought the issue of FGM to the fore in a way that’s never been seen before but what happens tomorrow, or next month, or next year, how do we keep the conversation going?

‘I think the most important thing is to keep talking about it and Marie Claire are doing an amazing job of bringing these issues in front of readers, enabling them to find out for themselves and form their own opinions. There’s a real girl power movement at the moment and we plan to seize it.’

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