FGM: Breaking Down Barriers

Here are some things about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) many people do not know:

  1. Women and girls in Scotland are at risk of FGM;
  2. This is not something that is based in any religion; and
  3. It is a practice which takes place in many countries around the world, not just a select few, and across many cultures and religions.

FGM (also known by other terms, such as “cutting”) is unlawful in Scotland, and can cause serious physical and psychological health problems.

JustRight Scotland’s Sarah Crawford attended Police Scotland’s National FGM Conference, titled ‘Breaking Down Barriers’, on 9 June at Tulliallan Castle. This was an excellent event at which Police Scotland came together with FGM survivors, community organisations and campaigners, support services and West Midlands Police to share knowledge and expertise on tackling FGM.

Speakers from Police Scotland highlighted the need for collaborative working in the fight to eradicate FGM in Scotland.  Of particular importance is the need to work sensitively with the communities within which FGM is taking place. This was reiterated by many of the speakers, as was the need for cultural factors to be taken into consideration by those coming into contact with people at risk of FGM, or seeking to combat it.

Highlights from the day included:

  • Hearing from survivors of FGM who bravely spoke out about their experiences. They stressed how important it is that the voices of survivors are heard, and that they felt compelled to speak up to prevent FGM from happening to others.
  • Angela Voulgari of Bright Choices gave a helpful talk on the many barriers that women and girls face in seeking assistance from services in relation to FGM. She urged services to be aware of the “one chance rule” – the one time a woman or girl makes contact with them could be her only chance to seek assistance. Services need to look out for subtle indications of FGM (those at risk may not say explicitly so). Further, she reminded delegates to ensure that they know the law on FGM. She ended her talk on a call for services to “if in doubt, check it out!”
  • Fatou Baldeh shared findings from the second leg of My Voice (a participatory action research project on FGM in Scotland, which was launched at an event on 15 June and is due to be made available online soon!). She illustrated many of the complexities surrounding FGM and gave some recommendations for practice.
  • DI Wendy Bird of West Midlands Police shared creative ideas from her work on Operational Sentinel, through which all local policing units and departments focus on key vulnerable crime types, including FGM, child sexual exploitation and honour based violence, making these issues everyone’s responsibility within West Midlands Police. She also talked about the work she has been doing with BAFGM, a multi-agency group which aims to prevent FGM, to protect girls from FGM and to address the physical, psychological and emotional health and support needs of women and girls who have undergone FGM. Wendy also signposted to some useful resources such as a new web app for professionals and for young people affected by FGM designed by Coventry University, and of course the NSPCC FGM Helpline.

It was clear from the event that there is a large amount of support and services available to people affected by FGM in Scotland. However, worryingly, the practice continues and there have been no prosecutions within the UK for FGM.

If you want to know more about FGM, its health risks, the law and access many useful resources, see here.