‘Julia Fox Should Know Better’: An FGM Survivor On Star’s Shocking Closed Vagina Outfit

One documentary released at the height of the anti-FGM campaign about ten years ago also set up a viewing room in the centre of London to show the public what FGM was – by playing a clip of a girl having it carried out. When I complained about this, instead of the issue being rectified, I was singled out as being the problem.

But I never let up, and with the help of some incredible child protection professionals we drew up our ‘Do No Harm’ guidelines – to show examples of how we should (and should not) communicate about FGM. This not only got rid of images of girls undergoing it, but they also ended the use of lazy language such as “barbaric and cultural”, because FGM is not something that happens in a backward society. It is an organised and planned abuse of women and children.

So, after fighting to ensure dignity for survivors of FGM in the way we campaign, imagine the shock and horror I felt when at the weekend I saw a picture of Julia Fox dressed in underwear depicting what amounts to infibulation – Type 3 FGM, where the vagina is almost fully sealed. The image was shared by a magazine with the caption: “This look will be living in my mind rent-free for the rest of my life.”

Oh, the irony. Why is this look living ‘rent-free’ in the mind of the internet? Because it’s edgy; a fashion statement? In reality, it lives in the minds and bodies of myself and millions of other women, mostly in Africa, who have been “closed” for business, as Julia puts it, as children. We have lived the horror of what it is to be closed, and – unlike Julia – the scars and trauma from my FGM are not something I can take off when I feel like it.

A new report from UNICEF last month showed that at least 230 million women and girls have been affected by FGM around the world. This is an increase of 30 million girls – or 15% – since the last global estimate in 2016. This new data is gut wrenching and I have not been able to truly come to terms with it because I know, having worked in this sector for over a decade, that we could have saved those girls. But the racism that drives magazines and newspapers to congratulate women like Julia for wearing the abuse of black African women as fashion is also the reason that donors are refusing to invest in the work being led by African women to end FGM.

I co-founded The Five Foundation, the global partnership to end FGM, to fight this racism and to bring in new funding for the issue – and to help change the way we fund efforts to end this extreme form of violence against girls. The Foundation has hosted the annual FGM Philanthropy Summit and we are getting support at last to women’s groups on the ground through our re-granting arm, The Five Fund, which is led by an amazing young African woman.

Julia Fox’s outfit clearly depicted an illustration of Type 3 FGM. Wherever she got it would have had a detailed explanation of what it was and who it impacted. But, just like so many in this country and across the world, she was blind to the issue of FGM because it was not impacting her personally.

I have had to fight two separate campaigns over the years. One to end FGM and make girls like me visible in the world, and another one for the way we campaign against FGM – to ensure we do not harm those who have already been affected by the act itself. I hope that Julia Fox can acknowledge the harm she has caused and that those who cheered her on over the weekend also take note – because they are as guilty of othering and harming the movement to end FGM as she is.

Nimco Ali is CEO of The Five Foundation, the global partnership to end FGM. You can donate to their work here.


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