International Day Against Female Genital Cutting

A cold, slushy London could not be further from an African village, but today is the day that the link is firmly made between the two, on behalf of the women and girls across the globe affected by female genital cutting (FGC).

Three years ago, in the Ethiopian village of Lalibela, I encountered FGC. I returned to the U.K. and founded the Orchid Project. Today, in London, on the International Day Against Female Genital Cutting, I will be joined by the eclectic, but powerful, mix of Sister Fa, the Senegalese hip-hop star, Stephen O'Brien, Minister for International Development and Lynne Featherstone, Home Office Minister, to raise awareness of this sensitive issue and highlight the work that is being done to bring it to an end.

Today is the day we remind the world of three things:

FGC still happens: Three million girls in Africa alone are affected by FGC every year. It takes place in 28 African countries, parts of the Middle East and Asia and in diaspora communities in the U.K., Europe, U.S.A. and Australia.

FGC does not need to happen: There are no health benefits to FGC. The cut itself can cause severe bleeding and at worst death. It happens because it is a social convention. It is considered a necessary part of raising a girl properly, a way to prepare her for adulthood and ensure a good marriage.

FGC can end: Over 6,200 communities -- including Sister Fa's -- have chosen to end FGC since 1997. Through programs of social change and human rights education, abandonment of FGC is sweeping across West Africa. There is an opportunity like no other to harness this momentum and end FGC within a generation.

In today's Independent, Stephen O'Brien talks about one such social change programme, Tostan and says "Tostan has shown the world what can be done, and gives us confidence that even behaviour so deeply embedded in culture can be changed."

Sister Fa, who herself went through this, has joined me today to raise her voice on behalf of the 140 million women across the globe who are affected by FGC. She is using her talent to raise this neglected issue. On today's Woman's Hour and in the Big Issue she talked about her own experience and the work that is being done to end this abuse of women's and child rights.

So, although it might be a challenge to stand in a room next to the foggy Thames and conjure up the girls of the villages of Africa, it is a challenge worth meeting. Theirs is the generation where this practice could end and today is the day we make sure their voices are heard.