February 8th marked International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Two days prior, UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon told the Guardian “We can end FGM within a generation …” Significant progress has been made in the fight against FGM in the last decade. Recently, Somalia’s Prime Minister, Omar Sharmarke endorsed an online campaign initiated by Avaaz calling on Somalia to make FGM illegal. Sharmarke is Prime Minister of a country where 98% of girls are cut. His commitment to ridding his country of FGM was further demonstrated when he enlisted the help of Irish FGM survivor and campaigner, Ifrah Ahmed, to devise a national strategy to eradicate this practice. Ahmed will begin her new role this month. Sharmake is not the only African leader to take a stand against FGM. President Jammeh of Gambia agreed to ban the practice in November last year. Other achievements so far include the landmark trial of a former midwife, a mother of two and a Dawoodi Bohra community leader in Australia who were sentenced to 15 months in prison.
Whilst these achievements are noteworthy and should not be ignored, there is still much work to be done if we are to ‘end FGM within a generation’. FGM continues to be prevalent in Africa and the Middle East which is where it is most commonly practiced. They key to fighting FGM lies in addressing the root causes of this practice which are rooted in culture rather than religion.
In the UK, FGM has increased by 43% since 2007. The UK Government’s recent publication of its Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy 2016-2020 states the importance of challenging cultural attitudes towards FGM. However, it doesn’t go into detail about how this will be done other than that the Government will continue to work with communities. A £3 million national FGM Prevention Programme, in partnership with NHS England, has been launched that is designed to improve the health-based response to FGM and actively support prevention. It’s great to see the Government taking action on this issue but the transformation of cultural attitudes underpinning the practice of FGM is what will bring about sustainable change to end FGM. Last week, doctors from the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust writing in PLOS Medicine – a medical journal – advocated for a multifaceted approach to fighting FGM which they believe is the most suitable way to deal with this sensitive issue. This was in response to the Government’s introduction of mandatory reporting of FGM as child abuse, an approach which doctors have raised concerns about. Whilst they agree that reporting is useful, they feel that reporting alone could drive the problem further underground. Doctors have emphasised the importance of educating and training health professionals in the issues surrounding FGM so for example they can educate at-risk females about the practice.
In a number of countries, laws have been enacted to criminalise FGM, targeting not only those who carry out the harmful procedure but also those who fail to report a potential or already committed crime. The types of penalties include imprisonment, fines and in the case of health care professionals the revocation of their licenses. Although FGM has been a criminal offence in the UK since 1985, in 2003 action was taken to strengthen the law against FGM. The law was broadened to include deterring people from taking girls abroad for mutilation and increasing potential penalties. Change that takes place at both national and international levels has the potential to hinder and enhance progress and does not result in sustainable change. It is perceived as a threat to cultural norms.
The issue of FGM is one which JAN Trust has been working on for over 20 years. In order to challenge the cultural attitudes towards FGM it is vital that the Government engage with organisations such as JAN Trust who have the expertise in this area of work at a community level. Our work on this issue has included providing workshops, raising awareness and supporting victims of FGM. These workshops have been delivered in schools and colleges, and also to statutory agencies and community groups. Head over to our AFGM Facebook page and hit ‘Like’ to keep updated on the latest developments in the campaign against FGM and to find out more about the role JAN Trust is playing in this campaign.
For more information or to book our FGM training please email: firstname.lastname@example.org