Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Labour's golden policy key? Build, build and build more (Guardian)

We've seen intellectual Ed, writes Polly Toynbee. But if Miliband wants to win in 2015, he needs one idea that has our inner optimist jumping for joy.

2. A wary, weary west is leaving Syria in the butchers’ hands (Daily Telegraph)

It doesn’t matter where we put the red lines: the terrible truth is that we are more powerless than we dare to admit, writes Benedict Brogan.

3. Growth will not decide the next election (Financial Times)

A strong economy at the next UK election could harm the Conservatives, says Janan Ganesh.

4. Ed Miliband doesn’t sound like the next PM (Times)

Two years ago just 23% thought he would be the best qualified, writes Peter Kellner. Now it’s risen to a mighty 24%.

5. What links the MMR scare and austerity? (Guardian)

Both sagas have their roots in dodgy academic papers, the agenda-pushing press and politicians – and willing believers, writes Aditya Chakrabortty.

6. Some missionary zeal at last, thanks to IDS (Times)

This week’s benefit reform shows what ministers can do if they are willing to face down Whitehall’s mandarins, says Rachel Sylvester.

7. However Ukip fares in this week's elections, the politics of protest can only take you so far (Independent)

The party remains far clearer about what it stands against than what it stands for, writes Donald Macintyre.

8. Confront UKIP with proper Tory policies (Daily Mail)

Re-introducing grammar schools, reclaiming control of Britain’s borders and ending abuse of human rights should be core Tory positions, says a Daily Mail editorial. 

9. Syria undermines Obama's strategy (Financial Times)

The president’s aim is to pivot to Asia rather than the Middle East, writes Gideon Rachman.

10. France shows us how to deal with jihadis (Daily Telegraph)

Why are our Gallic neighbours so much better at deporting terrorist suspects, asks Philip Johnston.

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Female genital mutilation is not just a women’s issue, it’s a human issue

A new play explores how two women react when their daughters' friend is subjected to FGM.

Alice Denny was born into a body that didn’t feel like hers. There is no one ‘right’ way to live and no one should have to hide who they really are.  For years, she accepted the guise before eventually making the transition she deserved.

“A life and body to finally match my mind,” she says softly, quoting one of her own poems to me. “I know, it’s silly,” she adds in a fluster, but Alice needn’t be so modest. In fact, she should be very proud.

We’re at The Joker, an offbeat bar in Brighton, and Alice explains how the realisation of her womanhood inspired her to take up a leading role in CUT, a community play highlighting the horrors of female genital mutilation (FGM), which premieres in Brighton next week.

“For anything to stop women from being women, I find so upsetting,” Alice tells me with a communicable heartbreak in her voice.

FGM involves the removal of a woman’s clitoris, inner-and-outer lips of the vagina, and the sewing or stapling together of the two sides of the vulva leaving only a small hole to pass urine and menstruate – depending on the variation. Typically, FGM is carried out with a razor blade on girls between the ages of four and 15, often without any anaesthetic.

This misguided practice, fed by some faux-rationale about raising girls properly, is most common among cultural and religious groups in Africa and the Middle East with the World Health Organisation estimating around 125 million cases across the globe. Many of these communities believe FGM will serve to limit a woman’s libido, discourage sexual promiscuity and strengthen the institute of marriage.

“It’s brutal and makes me almost ashamed to be a human being,” Alice states emphatically.

Of course, to take solace in the fact FGM is not as common in Britain, where it is illegal, is to cataclysmically miss the point. It shouldn’t happen anywhere or to anyone. As it is, an approximate 137,000 women in Britain are affected by FGM, but even that number could be more given the ‘hidden’ nature of the crime.

Daughters of some first-generation immigrants and asylum seekers can be at a particular risk, with these girls taken to their countries of origin against their will during the school holidays for the procedure, allowing them time to ‘heal’ before their return. In reality, the lasting effects both physical and psychological never cease completely.

It is a terrifying thought and one that the incisive CUT, written by Suchitra Chatterjee and Susi Mawell-Stewart, explores. The play chronicles the lives of two women, Brona and Kiva, neighbours forced to face up to the problem of FGM on their doorstep when a shared African friend of their daughters is about to be sent away to be mutilated. Parent of two Alice stars as Brona, while Norma Dixit portrays Kiva. 

So what does CUT hope to achieve?  “It’s about trying to break the conspiracy of silence surrounding this issue,” an impassioned Alice reveals.

The former psychiatric nurse continues: “FGM isn’t something that’s isolated to one place or one group of people. It’s a wider feminist issue, a human issue, which needs to be addressed collectively. The play is about raising awareness, a vehicle to say to women to make the world a better place for each other.

“Women matter, never mind culture, never mind traditions of people being subjugated. We matter and we can make our lives what we want them to be. I’ve made my life what I want it to be and I feel so happy about that.

“People who say ‘it’s nothing to do with us,’ of course it is. It’s brutalizing women. I would love people to say, ‘actually I do know something that’s going on and I will go to the police and they will listen to me.’ I want people to be energized and make it their business.”

Admittedly, CUT, directed by Rikki Tarascas, is not for the faint hearted and will no doubt leave the audience shocked in their seats. Then again, that’s the idea.

CUT will premiere at the BrightHelm Community Centre in Brighton on May 10 and features a pre-show event with speeches from, among others, Khadijah Kamara, an FGM survivor and Heather Knott, a former Soroptomist International UK committee member.