About 140 million females worldwide are currently living with the consequences of FGM – one of the worst bodily mutilation practices prevalent in the world today. Euphemistically, it is referred to as “circumcision”, and is carried out on female children, and is practiced in 28 African countries, parts of Asia and Latin America.
There is no religious justification for it, and in many cases it is a custom that has been around for centuries. It is a way of preserving a girl’s virginity, and is part of a “right of passage” of becoming a woman. Non-FGM girls can be considered to be outcasts, and will not be accepted for marriage; this is the coercion in their society that drives the practice.
In the UK, FGM is illegal, and has been for 30 years. More recent legislation has closed some loopholes, which ensures that anyone complicit in arranging for someone to be mutilated will be considered an offender. In the eyes of the law in the UK, it is a Serious Sexual Assault.
Although the prevalence of FGM in Derby is considered to be low, there is a risk that this might change with the migration of people from countries that do FGM. Hamaari have been awarded funds by the Police and Crime Commissioner and Derby City Council to carry out an awareness campaign over the next few months within certain target communities.
The 1st event was today, and was well-attended by 70+ people from a range of African countries. There were a number of guest speakers who spoke from different perspectives . The session gave an opportunity for the attendees to discuss amongst themselves what they knew about FGM, and what their thoughts were.
Dr Sadiyo Siad spoke from Eva Organisation for Women who are also doing an awareness campaign in conjunction with the University of Leicester. The next event on 6th March is simply titled “Stop Mutilating”. The disturbing point that she made was that the mothers who were coercing their daughters into being mutilated actually thought that they were doing the right thing for them. Given the fact that it is all about social acceptability then one can see how this strange conclusion can be construed.
She was very pleased to see a good mix in the audience between men and women, and was particularly enthused that a group of young men in Hamaari had arranged this project.
Two ladies from Derby City Council Social Services contextualised the position as a Child Protection issue. They emphasised that they work with other agencies and do their best to ensure that any outcomes involve children staying with their families. If they do discover that someone is at serious risk then they partner with the health services and police.
DCI Malcolm Bibbings from the Derbyshire Police explained that they view it in the same light as other forms of assault. They have 5 proirities:
Protect victims / Promote education / Public awareness / Connect with communities / Enforce the law.
More recent legislation made it a criminal offence not to protect someone from FGM.
Michelina Racioppi who is the Designated Nurse – Safeguarding children made the point that the health implications of the procedure can be critical both in the short-term during the operation but also the long-term resulting from problems with sexual dysfunction, urination, and menstrual difficulties. The physical impact on the girls is lifelong, but there is terrible psychological suffering as well.
Hardyal Dhindsa ( Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner) reported that combatting FGM is an item in the Crime Plan. He emphasised that whilst there have only been 6 referrals in the county he felt that this was probably an understatement.
Fatima, told her harrowing story of being mutilated as a young girl. She was told by her mother that if she did not have FGM then she would not be allowed to go to school and she would be an outcast. She was assured that it would not be painful.
She was taken to another place, blindfolded, held down by 4 women, had clothes forced into her mouth to keep her quiet before the terrifying operation. She stayed with the other girls for 2 months, dry leaves were used to protect the wound. After the period of recovery, there was a celebration as she was now “Finally a Woman”.
The words from her mother were the most poignant and indicative of why it is prevalent in the 21st Century “ I did it to protect you”.