Guest blog by Asha Chadeesingh.
November 25th - December 10th are the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence, an international campaign starting with International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and ending with Human Rights Day. The 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence is a period full of worldwide campaigns to end the violence which plagues many women’s lives for no reason other than their gender. An estimated 60,000 girls in the UK are at risk of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) every year, and over 30 million at risk over the next decade in Africa, making FGM one of the most widely practiced forms of violence against women.
One of the core themes of the 16 Days of Activism is empowering women to take a stand against the violence inflicted on them, by giving them the tools to do so. For young girls at risk of FGM in the UK, a common reason why they were unable to prevent themselves from being subject to this violence in the past was because the services just weren’t there to offer them a way out. The feature of FGM being a practice performed by or advocated by family members is one of the reasons that has historically prevented both the UK government and other organisations from arising to effectively stop it sooner.
However recent years have shown progress by the UK government and other agencies in offering facilities for girls and women who believe they are at risk of this form of violence. Much remains to be done both to prevent FGM and to ensure support for survivors. Campaigners will be urging for clear policies to tackle FGM and effective implementation of those policies during the 16 Days of Activism and beyond.
The first nationwide official source of help available to those who believe they or someone they know may be at risk of FGM is offered by the Police. The practice of FGM has been a criminal act in the UK since 1985 and you can call your local police by dialling “101” to report that you suspect yourself or someone else is at risk, or dialling “999” in case of an immediate emergency.
A second option available across Britain is the social care system and social workers. Referrals to social workers over FGM have remained scarce in Britain mainly because FGM doesn’t fit easily into the UK child protection scheme, as the system relies on responding to referrals rather than being pre-emptive and identifying girls at risk. For social workers, any work they can do begins with information from maternity service data, which states which women have undergone FGM, and which of those women have female children. Social workers are now part of a new risk assessment process, distributing literature to families which fall within this potential risk category, with direct contact between the social worker and family occurring for children viewed to be most imminently at risk. If the risk is found to be real, police will intervene. While this is not a perfect nor complete solution, these investigations provide a model for how social workers can intervene, and an increase in them will therefore help to limit potential victims.
The NSPCC offers a specific helpline for anyone worried a child is at risk of, or has already undergone FGM. The helpline is free, anonymous, and available 24/7 at 0800 028 3550, offering advice, information and support. Alternatively, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org. Since the helpline’s establishment in June of 2013 they have responded to over 300 contacts, with more than 1/3 of these resulting in a referral to the police or children’s services social workers. The NSPCC as a whole also provides expert training and specialist child protection courses to facilitate the broadening of knowledge of FGM.
As well as the services I’ve mentioned above, FGM specific charities like 28 Too Many offer a variety of services to those at risk of, or who have undergone FGM.
28 Too Many is a charity that researches FGM and campaigns for the end of the practice in Africa and worldwide. They produce detailed reports on FGM which are available as a free resource on their website and they work with partner organisations on programmes to tackle to FGM.
FORWARD UK is a campaign and support charity working in the UK, Europe and Africa. Their website offers guidance on what to do if you suspect that any girl is at risk of FGM, pointing you to your local Police Child Protection Unit or the NSPCC. If you suspect that a girl has already undergone the practice, FORWARD urges you to call their organisation on 020 8960 4000 where they will then provide support, counselling and access to the specialist health services a woman will need to prevent further long term damage to her health.
Daughters of Eve works to raise awareness of the extent of and impact of FGM as a form of violence against women. The organisation offers advice to anyone who has undergone FGM, including knowledge on the different medical reversal options, advice about childbirth, and how to live as healthily as possible with FGM. They also offer advice on what can be done to minimise the risk of FGM through either contacting the organisation itself or providing information the Metropolitan police service if the risk is immediate.
Finally, the Dahlia Project is a support group specifically for women who have undergone FGM, aiming to provide a safe space to women to unpack the effects of FGM. Pioneered by Leyla Hussain, the project is a partnership between Manor Gardens Health Advocacy Project and the Maya Centre. This project, which is planning to go nationwide, helps women who have undergone violence deal with the emotional after-effects, therefore limiting the long term suffering women have to go through because they have been a victim of violence.
Overall, there are an increasing number of options available to women who have undergone FGM or believe they or a friend may be at risk of it. This two-sided approach, offering services that both pre-empt and prevent FGM from happening, as well as services which provide health and emotional support for those who have undergone the practice, is essential. By attacking the practice from both sides more women are reached, and we are more likely to find an end to FGM.
Campaigners are pleased that more and better FGM services are now being made available and to see a stronger focus on preventing FGM. Having these services available is a long overdue and necessary step forward to ending the practice, as it means that police and health/social workers, those who are at the forefront of protection for the British population, are better equipped to tackle FGM. The 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence seeks to end violence against women and girls, and the provision of government and charity-run services for women at risk of or who have undergone FGM, is a tool to do just that.
If you can please make a donation to help support 28 Too Many's work to end FGM. A small monthly donation would make a huge difference to us so please consider setting up a standing order. There are many other ways to give and please email email@example.com for details. You can also support us by liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter.