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Combating Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the UK: A Call to Action

Introduction:

In recent years, the issue of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has gained significant attention worldwide. In the United Kingdom, efforts to prevent and combat this harmful practice have intensified, yet there is still much work to be done. In this blog, we will delve into the impact of FGM in the UK and explore strategies for prevention backed by data.

Understanding FGM:

Female Genital Mutilation refers to the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons. It is a deeply rooted cultural practice affecting millions of girls and women worldwide. The practice is often performed on girls without their informed consent and is rooted in cultural, social, and gender norms. 

In the UK, FGM is considered illegal and a grave violation of human rights. However, it continues to be a concern, primarily affecting girls from communities that practice it. 

The Impact of FGM:

  • Physical and Psychological Consequences: FGM inflicts severe physical and psychological harm on its victims. Immediate complications include severe pain, bleeding, and infection, while long-term consequences can include chronic pain, reproductive health issues, and psychological trauma. 
  • Violation of Human Rights: FGM is a clear violation of women’s and girls’ rights to bodily integrity, health, and freedom from violence. It perpetuates gender inequality and discrimination. 
  • Hidden Suffering: FGM often occurs within secretive and closed communities, making it challenging to identify victims and provide them with the support they need. 

UK Law and FGM

FGM is a crime in the UK. It is also illegal to take a British national or permanent resident abroad for FGM or to help someone trying to do this. The maximum sentence for carrying out FGM or helping it to take place is 14 years in prison. Female Genital Mutilation is one of most dreadful kind of gender-based violence. This practice affecting millions of girls worldwide is still prevalent because of lack of awareness, misinformation and is often defended in the name of preserving cultural practices. The adverse impact on health is overlooked, so are the often-regressive social values associated with the practice  

The United Kingdom has taken a strong stance against FGM through a series of legal provisions and measures: 

The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003: This Act criminalizes all forms of FGM, making it illegal to perform, assist, or arrange for FGM, regardless of where it occurs. 

Mandatory Reporting Duty: The Serious Crime Act 2015 introduced a duty on professionals in regulated health and social care, education, and social services to report known cases of FGM in under-18s to the police. 

FGM Protection Orders: These orders were introduced in 2015, allowing the court to issue orders to protect individuals who are at risk of FGM, or who have already undergone it. 

Multi-Agency Guidelines: The UK government has published guidelines to assist agencies in safeguarding potential victims of FGM. This promotes a coordinated response to FGM cases and helps ensure that victims receive the support and protection they need. 

Global Commitment: The UK government has been active on the international stage, pledging significant funding and support to combat FGM globally. 

The potential risks of FGM

FGM has no health benefits. It can lead to immediate health risks, as well as long-term complications to women’s physical, mental, and sexual health and well-being.   The practice is recognized internationally as a violation of human rights of girls and women and as an extreme form of gender discrimination, reflecting deep-rooted inequality between the sexes. 

Health risks of FGM include:

  • Shock, haemorrhage and death 
  • Wound infections, including tetanus and gangrene, as well as blood-borne viruses such as HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C
  • Damage to other organs, such as the urethra (where urine passes) and the bowel
  • Chronic vaginal and pelvic infections
  • Difficulty passing urine and persistent urine infections
  • Abnormal periods – increased pain, prolonged blood flow due to reduced vaginal opening
  • Kidney impairment and possible kidney failure
  • Permanently tender scar tissue
  • Pain during sex, lack of pleasurable sensation and related low libido
  • Damage to the reproductive system, including infertility
  • The need for later surgery to open the lower vagina for sexual intercourse and childbirth
  • Complications in pregnancy and labour, and new-born deaths
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Depression, anxiety and low self-esteem

Preventing FGM in the UK:

Education and Awareness: Raising awareness about the dangers and illegality of FGM is crucial. This includes educating communities, healthcare professionals, and educators about the signs, risks, and legal consequences. 

Engaging Communities: Building trust within communities where FGM is practiced is essential. Working with religious and community leaders to change perceptions and challenge cultural norms is vital. 

Legal Action: The UK has taken significant legal steps to combat FGM, including criminalizing the act and strengthening the law. Prosecuting those involved sends a strong message that FGM will not be tolerated. 

Support for Victims: Ensuring that victims have access to medical, psychological, and legal support is essential. Creating safe spaces for survivors to share their experiences can be empowering and healing. 

Data on FGM in the UK:

To effectively combat FGM, it is essential to have accurate data. According to the latest available statistics: 

  • The prevalence of FGM in the UK is difficult to measure precisely due to its hidden nature, but it is estimated that tens of thousands of girls and women in the UK are at risk. 
  • Most cases of FGM in the UK are performed on girls under the age of 10. 
  • The most affected communities are those originating from countries where FGM is prevalent, such as Somalia, Egypt, and Sudan. 

Conclusion:

The fight against Female Genital Mutilation in the UK is far from over, but with continued efforts in education, community engagement, legal action, and support for victims, progress is being made. It is a collective responsibility to protect the rights and well-being of girls and women, and together, we can work towards eradicating this harmful practice in the UK. 

Remember, FGM is a grave violation of human rights, and our commitment to ending it must remain steadfast.