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Shocking Anti-FGM Campaign Sparks Outrage in Europe

Despite taking home trophies from the Cannes Lions awards, this anti-female genital mutilation campaign has been criticised by victims and campaigners.

Awarded with Europe’s most prestigious advertising prize, the ‘It happens here’ campaign against FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) has triggered outrage among FGM survivors and campaigners across Europe, where the practice is still carried out, despite being illegal in many countries.

The ads, designed last April by Ogilvy and Mather London on behalf of anti-FGM charity 28 Too Many, illustrate flags of western countries – such as England, Scotland, Germany and Italy-- splashed with blood stains and sewn together with a thick thread, aiming to raise awareness on the existence of the practice that affects over 50,000 girls in the UK alone. "Female genital mutilation doesn't only happen in far away places,” reads its powerful tagline.

A sewn flag of Scotland portrays the widespread practice of FGM in the northern nation, where over 3,000 are at risk of suffering FGM.

“FGM is not just being performed in Africa, the Middle East and Asia but is taking place here, in Europe, on our very own door steps,” said Ann-Marie Wilson, executive director of 28 Too Many.

According to the organisation, every year, three million girls are at risk of FGM in Africa, the Americas, Australia, Asia, the Middle East and many countries in Europe. In Egypt, a shocking 92% of married women were recorded as having gone through the procedure as of 2014, a percentage which roughly amounts 27 million women.

This week, the campaign won a Gold and Bronze award at the Cannes Lions, the world’s top advertising award, although campaigners against the practice consider the ads are “disgusting” as they stigmatise FGM. “It’s so graphic and we have worked so hard to get the conversation about seeing [FGM] as violence against women and girls, and we need to work within that framework,” co-founder of anti-FGM charity Daughters of Eve Nimko Ali told The Telegraph. “We’re trying not to stigmatise and traumatise girls but this ad does."

 "Female genital mutilation doesn't only happen in far away places," reads the German flag, where 50,000 girls are at risk of FGM. 

“We need campaigns which encourage a discussion around the fact that FGM is a reality in Europe and across the world,” The End FGM European Network added, highlighting however that it is vital to use images that “empower and enhance the dignity” of survivors and those at risk. “Stigmatising imagery can alienate affected communities even more and we need to ensure that they are central to ending FGM.”

The advertising agency, which will showcase the controversial posters across outdoor sites, in 85 university campuses, and within regional print media, responded that its bold imagery is “intended to shock and reach an audience typically unaware of the issues of FGM.”