A Voice From Within - A Community’s perspective on Ending FGM

By Alimatu Dimonekene on 06 February 2018 FGM - Female Genital Mutilation

How would you feel knowing your country has declared the abuse you suffered a crime, and yet you cannot access the services you need? How could you reconcile the voice within yourself, with an NHS that doesn’t understand how you feel and what you need as a survivor?

I lead a project called Project ACEi. Since 2014, I have worked with local authorities, charities and community organizations, and directly with communities in and around London to understand the issues around the impact and consequences of FGM and violence against women and girls from the women and girls themselves.

We know that many women affected by FGM do not always come forward to report their FGM or seek support specifically. Sometimes it is an interaction with a health professional that triggers the disclosure of FGM or, in other instances, some girls or women may suppress the memory of the trauma until external cues trigger that memory or else they experience flash backs.  Project ACEi’s focus has been direct community engagement with those affected by FGM with the aim of understanding the difficulties survivors face when trying to access specialist advice, support or services for FGM. We have worked with the diaspora communities including Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Somalia. I have listened to these women and girls. As a survivor myself, I believe that policy makers and service providers have rendered the voices of survivors redundant and their sufferings are not seen as priority.

We are failing non-pregnant women who are seeking help to understand what has happened to them. The closures of local community clinics such as the Acton Clinic in West London, where women could go to speak to an advocate or seek health care or psychological support in confidence, have closed down. We are told that services are available in hospital settings – many of the women seeking help for FGM related problems may not go to hospital except if they are pregnant, in which case services would be available to them in many instances.. Ending FGM does not happen in a vacuum where the communities have little or no say on how and where services are provided. Not all of us may need a psychologist or intensive medical intervention. Some of us just want to speak to someone who understands and can actually hear what that “voice from within” is saying and what help is needed.

A survey conducted by ProjectACEi found that services for survivors like me vary considerable between local authorities. Often women and girls travel across boroughs in search of support services. A heartbreaking finding was the fact that women and girls with some form of disabilities which are associated with their FGM are often excluded and not fully assessed by social care providers. We also found that affected communities were less engaged because they felt that those who work to end FGM issues do not understand the communities, the status of girls and women within those communities and tended to lecture them about FGM instead of finding out what their needs are. This is a betrayal of the promises made by the NHS.

Service providers and commissioners should stop chasing “Fools Gold” in the belief that closing these community clinics will save money. . If we provide care for these women now, we will be engaging them in discussions about the negative consequences of FGM and are likely to be our key allies in ending FGM by not choosing it as an option for their daughters. This is why we welcome the call for action by the Royal College of Midwives for the government and agencies to run evidence-based public awareness campaigns, in partnership with survivors, to change hearts and minds. They will do this through education for young people and dialogue with families and influential leaders in practicing communities and for the provision of specialist FGM services in community settings. Only then can they demonstrate that they have heard the many “voices within” who need both help and hope.