Continuing the fight against FGM

I was delighted to visit Bristol yesterday, to see for myself the excellent initiatives taking place in this city to tackle Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and violence against girls and women.

My first stop was St Werburgh’s Primary School. Under the inspiring leadership of the school’s headteacher and her team, plus the outreach work of Bristol’s nurse for safeguarding children, the school has developed an excellent relationship with the local community. This enables them to have honest conversations with pupils and parents about a range of sensitive issues, including FGM. I am convinced that this kind of school leadership and approach to safeguarding children is vital in the fight against FGM and I look forward to meeting representatives from teaching unions and safeguarding boards soon to discuss this.

At the school and later in one of their homes, I met mothers from the local Somali community to hear their thoughts on how to stop FGM. These women are determined that their daughters will not be cut and say attitudes are changing. But they explained how the subject remains taboo within communities and is generally not discussed, even amongst women. And when these women have presented at clinics or hospitals in the UK, the medical staff often have little or no experience of FGM. I am very pleased to see Jane Ellison – a long-time, dedicated campaigner on FGM – appointed to the Department of Health this week and am sure this will be an issue she tackles as Minister.

Lynne Featherstone MP, and DFID minister) with staff and parents from St Werburgh’s Primary School

In the afternoon I visited City Academy, home of the charity Integrate Bristol. I met staff and young people from Integrate who have been driving forward a campaign over the last few years against FGM. Later, the Integrate team delivered a fantastic event at Bristol’s City Hall, supported by Mayor George Ferguson, to celebrate the young people’s work and thank those who have supported them. It was a moving, funny and dynamic event, showcasing the work of the charity over the last few years – from a Newsnight appearance, to advising the BBC on their Casualty FGM episode, to writing and performing a successful play. The boldness and creativity of these teenagers is amazing and gives me faith that, as girls are educated and empowered, we will see an end to FGM.

I am very grateful to all involved for an instructive and inspiring day. A particular thanks to Nimco Ali from the campaign group Daughters of Eve, who has worked with communities, schools and local groups over many years to raise awareness about FGM and campaign for its end.

Bristol is pioneering an approach to tackling FGM which combines strong leadership, empowering girls and women, and working across government sectors. There is a long way to go, but great strides have been made. I have come back to London with hope and with ideas!


Female Genital Mutilation – new guidelines launched

Yesterday we (the Government) launched new guidelines to help front line professionals – nurses, doctors, teachers and social workers – know how to recognise and prevent Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). The guidelines are being sent to chairs of Local Safeguarding Children’s Boards, Directors of Children’s Services and Regional Directors of Public Health, will help professionals:

* identify and prevent further incidents;
* ensure that victims and potential victims receive the response and support they need; and
* provide a step-by-step practical guide to sensitively handling cases of FGM

The guidelines have been developed across government departments in partnership with the Royal Colleges, FGM experts, charitable organisations and the Association of Chief Police Officers.

This is part of my Home Office domestic violence portfolio. FGM is a most brutal crime and has the most terrible and long lasting effects on women and girls. One of the challenges we face in putting an end to this practice is the lack of knowledge about how to recognise the signs and what to do when you do recognise the signs.

I attended a recent round table on FGM as a pre-launch event to set out just how – local teachers, nursing staff, police officers, community leaders and survivors of FGM can work together to end such a cruel practice.

If a teacher had a pupil come into class with a black eye – that teacher would surely and rightly be concerned and ask questions. We need teachers to be equally concerned if, for example, a girl keeps taking abnormally long times when she goes to the toilet (one of the signs of FGM).

This is what Hagir Ahmed, survivor of FGM and Manor Gardens advocate said:

“I had the experience at the age of five or six. When you are a child you usually don’t remember things at that age but I remember. I remember being at a party and the people holding me down. My legs. My hands. My knees. And then I remember the practitioner with the knife.

“I don’t remember any anaesthetic. I just remember crying, crying and pleading. I was completely shattered, emotionally and physically.”

Joy Clarke, Lead Specialist Midwife at Whittington Hospital:

“When people migrate they take their customs with them and FGM is practiced in communities to keep those communities together. Because they love their children they continue to do it.

“Organisations like the Manor Gardens Advocacy Project are already doing good work to educate communities. I work with Manor Gardens to go out and run workshops with social workers and teachers in practising communities so they can recognise if a child is at risk. And I talk to parents about the physical and mental health implications and the law. In 99 per cent of cases this makes a difference but we need to revisit the families to make sure they have understood.”