Does Michael Gove listen to Sarah Vine? I hope not.
Michael Gove’s wife, Sarah Vine, former Times colleague of the Education Secretary, now Daily Mail columnist, is well known for embarrassing him. She has written about his obsession with Mick Jagger’s penis, his terrible driving, the nightmare of being on holiday with him, and even how frequently or infrequently they have sex. Throughout, Michael Gove has steadfastly stuck to the line that women are allowed to have their own views. Indeed.
Vine herself repeats that line in her recent Daily Mail article Female genital mutilation is a horror our children DON’T need lessons on, in which she argues against a Guardian backed campaign to persuade Michael Gove to back FGM education. “I’m sure,” writes Vine, “The Guardian would agree 21st century wives are allowed opinions of their own.” No doubt she’s right.
However, the timing of Vine’s opinions about FGM education does raise questions. Is this article another embarrassment for Michael Gove? Or is Vine like one of those Sochi curlers with their little brooms, preparing the way for him? Will Gove, like Vine, reject the call to educate the next generation about the danger of FGM? Vine’s article appeared on February 12th, two days after the Secretary of State for Education wrote to 17 year old campaigner Fahma Mohamed. Gove agreed to meet Mohamed to discuss her demand that schools tackle the subject of FGM before the start of the summer, the “cutting season”, when most FGM is carried out. Campaigners are naturally wondering whether Gove shares his wife’s views.
Vine’s stand-out claim in the piece is that “Immigration may have brought this abomination to our shores, but it must not bring it into our classrooms too.”
This is the most extraordinary blurring of the horror of experiencing FGM and the horror of learning about it. Is Vine really suggesting that we should protect children from hearing about FGM because it is only suffered by girls whose families originally came from another country? Does she think that there are two kinds of children – and that in order to protect one group from the painful knowledge of the existence of FGM we should hold back from doing everything we can to protect another group of children from physical mutilation?
Vine’s fear is that children will be traumatised. She doesn’t want her 9 year old terrorized by the idea that “someone is going to kidnap them and do unspeakable things to them with a razorblade.” Well, no. That’s exactly Fahma Mohamed’s point, “You have to approach it in the right way or you might upset a lot of people. It’s not an easy subject to talk about.” Mohamed herself had never heard about FGM before she got involved with the charity Integrate Bristol at City Academy Bristol. She is full of praise for Integrate Bristol, of which she is now a trustee, and how it has enabled boys and girls to discuss FGM without awkwardness. She emphasizes that the campaign work of Integrate Bristol has been creative and fun. The students have written and performed songs, made films and put on a play.
Mohamed wants to see FGM eradicated within a generation and she believes that sensitive education of young people is the key to that. Integrate Bristol has been asked to share their methods with many schools, “but we can’t do this to every single school in the UK… which is why I’m part of this campaign and why we need Michael Gove to listen to us.”
Vine laments that “some politicians will always rather take the path of least resistance than make a stand on the latest fashionable cause.” FGM campaigns in the UK in fact go back to the 1980s. What we have now is the coming of age of young people from FGM affected communities, who have been educated in the UK and who are standing up for themselves. In the view of Fahma it is a cause whose time has come. More than 200,000 people who have signed her e-petition agree. Let’s hope Gove listens to Mohamed rather than Vine.
For more information about Integrate Bristol: http://integratebristol.org.uk/
For more information about Female Genital Mutilation, Daughters of Eve: http://www.dofeve.org/
If you are worried that a child may be at risk of FGM, you can contact the NSPCC 24 hour helpline anonymously on 0800 028 3550 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.