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‘Zero tolerance needed to stop FGM’

Midwives magazine: Issue 2 :: 2012

More than 120 health professionals attended an RCM and RCOG event held for International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation. The subject was debated and here are the issues and findings.

Tens of thousands of women in the UK are believed to have suffered from the horrific practice of female genital mutilation (FGM).

A total of 66,000 are estimated to have been subjected to FGM and up to a further 24,000 more are thought to be at risk.

It is illegal to perform the practice in the UK – as it is for girls to be taken abroad for FGM – yet it is still worryingly widespread and, while people have been found guilty of carrying out FGM in other European countries, there has never been a single prosecution in the UK.

At the RCM and RCOG’s joint conference on the devastating practice, the consensus was that more detailed information and data is needed if the inhumane practice is to be wiped out.

Jane Ellison MP is the chair of an all-party group that is investigating FGM and includes 52 members of parliament. 

She said: ‘We must get up-to-date statistics [so] there can be no denial that this is going on.’

She said the Home Office has allocated a small amount of funding to see how a large-scale FGM study could be carried out.

Efua Dorkenoo, a senior public health specialist and women’s rights advocate, agreed that up-to-date statistics are needed and said FGM is 
‘a violation of the rights of girls and women, [but] we don’t have very good data’.

A recent survey conducted by the RCM shows that a third of UK midwives have cared for women who have suffered from FGM.

The survey of over 1700 midwives also shows that there is a lack of training and awareness of the practice.

The results reveal that over half (55%) of those surveyed did not know where to refer women with FGM for specialist services.

They also show that a large majority (84.7%) of respondents had not received any training on FGM in the previous year.

Cathy Warwick, RCM chief executive, said: ‘It worries me greatly that so many UK midwives are seeing cases of FGM, and I am concerned about the scale and extent of it in this country. We must take a zero tolerance line on FGM and do all we can to see it stopped in the UK and elsewhere.

‘It is a violation of a woman’s human rights, and there is a real need to raise awareness about the damage that FGM can do to women within the communities that practise it.

‘We must focus on protecting the current generation of girls and young women.’

Cathy has also recently stressed that it is ‘important that we don’t see this as a simple issue’. 

Many people believe that a major reason why FGM has not been tackled more effectively in the UK is because of concerns over singling out specific ethnic groups and communities.

Nimco Ali is one of the founders of Daughters of Eve – a non-profit organisation set up to help girls at risk of FGM. ‘It happens in the UK and we need to stop walking on cultural egg shells,’ she said. ‘It is not racist to tackle FGM – it’s racist to ignore it.’