Labour MEPs today called for the EU to set out its plan of action to combat female genital mutilation (FGM).
Mary Honeyball MEP, Labour's European spokesperson on women's rights and gender equality, said:
"FGM is an abhorrent form of violence against women and girls and a gross violation of their human rights and bodily autonomy. Although the practice is more prevalent in certain parts of Africa and the Middle East, research has suggested as many as 500,000 women and girls are living with the consequences of FGM in Europe today.
"I believe there is much more that can be done to eradicate this practice. This is why we are asking the European Commission to set out exactly which measures will be implemented to combat FGM and how their plan of action will be achieved in practice. I am also concerned about the level of protection available to asylum seekers whose claims relate to FGM.
"In the UK, more action must also be taken to end FGM. Through mobilising and involving health care professionals, along with supporting and empowering women community leaders, I believe we can work towards the eradication of FGM.
"Challenging deeply ingrained cultural practices and beliefs is not a straightforward task. However, the immeasurable amount of suffering inflicted by FGM makes it a very urgent one."
In a speech to the European Parliament, Labour's Julie Ward MEP added:
"I have been moved by my encounters with activists from the End FGM European campaign who have shown that by working together, including and supporting women and communities affected by the practice, we can effect change.
"Campaigns have a lifespan but issues do not go away so we must continue to speak out, together with civil society, in order to raise public awareness and move closer to the next goal which is zero tolerance.
"One of the most powerful ways to do this is to encourage and support affected communities to bear witness to their experiences. Through the telling of stories of those who have experienced the pain of mutilation and circumcision, we break the taboo and stigma which surrounds the ritual.
"Through sharing the testimonies of others who have been involved, such as health professionals, lawyers and community workers, men as well as women, we show how this is an issue that must be tackled at home as well as abroad.
"Zero tolerance for the practice of FGM must come about with more tolerance of open discussion of the practice, and the suffering it brings about. We must embrace all those affected by enacting a more compassionate form of politics, raising the pitch of public debate, changing the language we use so that victims become ‘rights holders’.
"We must continue to work together with all those affected in helping to eradicate the practice."
Labour MEPs also called for the EU to back UN targets to eradicate FGM worldwide.
Linda McAvan MEP, chair of the European Parliament development committee, said:
"2015 gives us a unique opportunity to consign FGM to history. In September, global leaders will meet at the UN in New York to decide on replacements for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
"The draft negotiating document includes a target to eliminate FGM. We need that target retained and a real commitment and timetable to come out of New York."