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‘Historical context’ can often act as a device to excuse or justify. Some might use it to argue that we cannot judge days gone by through our own standards.

However, the BBC’s Call the Midwife will soon try to avoid these pitfalls, in it’s look at FGM in the context of Somali women in 1960’s East London, in the upcoming series.

In an interview on yesterday’s Woman’s Hour (BBC R4) the creator of the TV show, Heidi Thomas, discusses how FGM would have been understood and responded to by 1960’s Britain. A clinical, rather than a moral approach is said to be taken by the staff.

This is predicted by the creators to “ruffle some feathers” in the audience.

But a bleak exposure of the medical harm may be no bad thing, if it highlights the extreme pain that can be incurred by women who have been cut, specifically throughout their pregnancy, childbirth and post-natal condition.

If Heidi Thomas is right about how Call the Midwife acts as a conversation starter, this could be an important moment for FGM in the national conscience. While the approach by 1960’s Britain may be hard to swallow, the way this programme is able to lift the curtain on so many ‘taboo’ subjects, for today’s audiences, is incredibly important.

The gentleness and softness of the period-costumes and Queen’s-English nurses allows a subtle introduction of the difficulties which are a feature of the health and social lives of so many women. This clever layering of content in Call the Midwife therefore has the potential to be excellent way to raise both awareness and compassion to UK viewers. Like so many other problems face directly by women, (and ultimately by society as a whole) the hidden nature of the practice of FGM – as affecting the most intimate nature of women and girls, and the way practicing communities can keep it secret within the UK – is half the battle.

BEYOND FGM’s work in Pokot has shown that so much progress can be made once families and friends start to really think and talk about what FGM means for women, their families and their communities.

You can listen to the Woman’s Hour interview with Heidi Thomas here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04psb0q 

The new series of Call the Midwife is due to start next week.

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