Change needs to start in Britain

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There are three stages of horror in a woman's life, a well-known saying in the Horn of Africa goes, "the day she is mutilated, her wedding night and the day she gives birth".

What people here find hard to grasp, as well as this being practised in the UK, is that it completely ruins a woman's life, turning joyous events like the beginning of a love affair into a nightmare. In the part of London where I live, I meet a lot of women who tell me they have been cut. To remove the clitoris is the worst thing. It is not just some little operation that is painful but will soon be over. It will destroy what we think of as a woman. It will destroy her life, her sex life, everything.

It is child abuse, but in what are otherwise happy homes here in the UK, parents do this out of love for their children. They think they are giving them a better life. People think, "oh, these people are uneducated", but they are not, and often the parents are professional people.

The first time I found out about FGM, about 13 years ago, I felt completely horrified. Often, men are more horrified than women. I believe I was the first person to use the word clitoris in the House of Lords, when talking about FGM, and afterwards some men said to me, "Is it true? Can it really be happening?" Yes.

I don't think explaining it embarrasses people; it horrifies them, as it should. In all my time campaigning, little has changed, except there are many more groups now. (I used FGM as a subplot in one of my Wexford books – which reached a lot of people but it didn't have much more of an effect.)

Keir Starmer has come up with a 10-point plan which looks good. He has a steering group, but I have seen a lot of this type of stuff and nothing happens. Maybe this will be different. Up to now the police haven't been able to get evidence for one prosecution, which must change. They must try harder to find witnesses to come forward – there have been prosecutions in France, Italy and Sweden.

Accurate figures have also been a problem. I have heard numbers of children at risk in the UK range from 15,000 to 60,000. We need to know the numbers. The danger is that it looks as though it might be a fantasy, but it isn't; the FGM National Clinical Group is doing something to address that.

We need more education right through the medical profession. Even my GP, who is excellent, said he didn't know about FGM until I told him. The problem is one of culture that has spanned centuries. In parts of Africa, up to 99 per cent of women are cut. What we need to do is start change here.

Baroness Rendell of Babergh, the crime writer, is patron of the FGM National Clinical Group

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