Yesterday I attended the first national conference on Female Genital Mutilation organised by Integrate. What was most surprising about this conference wasn’t that it was the first ever conference of it’s kind in the UK but that this conference was organised by young people themselves.
These young people were awesome, incredible, inspiring and I was blown away by them especially as last year they had been under increasing pressure from members of their communities not to show the powerful short film they developed- Silent Scream, which was shown as part of the conference.
The thing that hit me about the conference is that these young people organising this conference are effectively asking us as professionals (the conference delegates were made up of many many professionals working with young people) to protect them from FGM yet it is clear that as a country we are completely failing them. As yet there has not been one prosecution, despite FGM being illegal in the UK since 1985 and illegal to take a child out of the country for FGM since 2003.
Bristol is doing excellent work in FGM safeguarding practices and I was inspired by the incredible quality of multiagency work that has gone on in the area, however even in Bristol in 2011 there were only 4 referrals to police in 2011 about FGM and three of those were from families who wanted to protect their daughters, only ONE of them was from a concerned professional.
This is unacceptable. FGM IS SERIOUS CHILD ABUSE. IT IS ILLEGAL. Why are professionals not stepping in to protect children from this brutal torturous practice which sexually maims a child for the rest of her life? During the conference we heard a myriad of reasons why this isn’t happening and you can read about them in the Tweets from the conference I storified.
I was also particularly impressed with the work of Daughters Of Eve (and their video with the EQUALS partnership below explains more about FGM)
If you are a professional working with young people you need to be asking the following questions of yourself and your organisation.
1) Do I know exactly what FGM (including the four types) is and why it is carried out?
2) Have I had any training about FGM as part of standard safeguarding training?
3) Do I feel confident in making a possible referral if I suspect FGM?
4) Is anti-FGM work embedded in my organisations policies- obviously safeguarding but less obviously things like Holiday in term time policy (Girls are most likely to be taken abroad to be cut during an extended summer holiday, often in the time between Y6 and Y7)
5) What can my organisation do about awareness raising of FGM with the young people we work with? (Note- this shouldn’t necessarily be about a one off lesson necessarily but about embedding information about FGM across Sex & Relationships education/Citizenship/Religious Education lessons. Not repetitive but integrated within the curriculum.
6) Do I know where to get more help and information on a local level. Is there a local expert I can speak to for support?
I am currently asking myself exactly these questions and we ALL have to work together on this to help save girls (often primary school age) from this harmful traditional practice- remember it is estimated that 24,000 girls in the UK are at risk of FGM. As Daughters Of Eve say- “save one girl we break the cycle.”