FGM in Scotland - a report summary

Baseline Survey in Glasgow and Edinburgh on the Beliefs, Views and Experiences of FGM (2010)

By Dr Monica E.M Mhoja, Ms Jecynta A. Azong and Ms Annie. M Lawson

INTRODUCTION

'We love our traditions but our health and dignity are important'

The booklet presents results from an investigative baseline survey regarding the beliefs and views on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and the experiences of women affected by FGM. The survey was conducted in Glasgow and Edinburgh in September and October 2009.More needs to be done to tackle FGM in Scotland. The lack of data on FGM makes it difficult for policy makers and professionals to respond effectively to the needs of affected women and to protect girls from undergoing FGM.

This survey summarises the viewpoints of participants. It addresses questions including: What do people say about reasons for circumcision? What are people's beliefs regarding female circumcision? How do women affected by FGM interact with health services? The baseline survey clearly shows that there is a need to strategically advocate for change and conduct further research in Scotland. Commendably, steps have been taken by the parliament in Scotland to discourage FGM. For example, the government introduced a Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (Scotland) Act in 2005 to demonstrate its commitment to preventing the occurrence of FGM in Scotland, but to date many people are still not aware of the practice and the law.

Often, FGM is performed without anaesthesia in a painful manner, using rudimentary instruments causing complications sometimes leading to death. FGM may leave a lasting mark on the life and mind of the women and girls as graphically testified above. In the longer term, women may suffer feelings of incompleteness, anxiety, depression, chronic irritability and frigidity. Many women and girls, traumatised by their experience but with no acceptable means of expressing their fears, suffer in silence. Ironically, the daughters of some immigrants in Scotland are potential victims of FGM. DARF intends to strategically engage all stakeholders and break that silence.

Monica Mhoja (PhD) (International Human Rights Award Winner 2003, ABA), DARF Coordinator

Objectives

  1. To gain general insights from men and women who come from FGM practising communities in Edinburgh and Glasgow
  2. To increase our knowledge about women and girls affected by FGM in Scotland
  3. To provide preliminary baseline information for a future grounded research of FGM and its impact in Scotland

 

Rationale

WHO estimates the number of women and girls who have undergone genital mutilation globally at between 100 and 140 million, with a further 3 million girls at risk annually. FGM is endemic throughout much of Africa. It is practised in 28 African countries.

FGM is an issue for Scotland as immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees from the African countries where FGM is practised have now entered, and begun to settle in Scotland. This is, in part, due to the Glasgow local authority's agreement to participate in the (UK) Government's National Asylum Support Scheme (NASS). Thus, the number of young women entering Scotland from FGM practising cultures has increased spectacularly since 2000.

To date, there are no definitive statistics on the incidence of FGM in the UK, and Scotland, in particular. This is perhaps due to the lack of surveys that have been conducted, and also to the ignorance that surrounds the issue of FGM. The Home Office graphically illustrates that '... FGM is much more common than most people realise, both worldwide and in the UK. Most of the women and girls affected live in Africa... However, those who have undergone, or are at risk of undergoing, FGM are increasingly found in Western Europe..., primarily among immigrant and refugee communities. It is estimated that there are around 74,000 women in the UK who have undergone the procedure, and about 7,000 girls under 16 who are at risk (FOWARD, 2007). This estimate is based on the number of immigrants and refugees settled in the UK from countries where FGM is endemic'(Home Office, 21 March 2003 re)

The practice of FGM is against the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (Scotland) Act 2005 which came into force in this country on 1st September, 2005. It changes the legal definition of female genital mutilation - 'to excise infibulate or otherwise mutilate the whole or any part of the labia majora, labia minora prepuce of the clitoris, clitoris or vagina of another person.' It makes it an offence for UK nationals or permanent residents to carry out, or aid and abet, female genital mutilation in the UK and abroad, and it increases the maximum penalty to 14 years imprisonment. It also allows a court to refer the victim and any child in the same household to the Reporter to the Children´s Panel.

UNDERSTANDING THE CONTEXT OF FGM

The survey focused on the social and cultural context of FGM. Based on the overall findings, important factors emerged included tradition, culture and identity. Most people from the FGM practising communities understand FGM as a way of life that should be maintained; however, others see it as barbaric. The way in which both male and female participants perceived the violation of women's rights, the loss of dignity, and stigmatisation, were noted to shape a clearer understanding of FGM.

Providing those who interact with FGM practising communities with an understanding of the socio-cultural significance of FGM helps to ensure that the issue is dealt with sensitively and appropriately. Increasing the mutual understanding between FGM practising communities and those who work with them helps to create a cohesive environment, free from stigmatisation.

The findings show that most participants from FGM practising communities, and women in particular - although not necessarily in favour of FGM - have come to understand the practice of FGM as an important social and cultural rite as it believed to preserve social class and cultural identity.

Most participants stated that they would be unwilling to disclose information regarding FGM to health workers and to the general public, even informally. This is mainly due to a fear of being perceived as strange by the non-FGM practising population, and fear of being excluded from the FGM practising community. Others contended that 'coming out' with information on FGM places a barrier between people from FGM practising communities and those from non-practising communities. Many participants were concerned that non-practising communities would view FGM practising communities as uncivilised. FGM practising communities felt that their culture and traditions would be undermined. This seriously infringes open interaction and causes people from FGM practising communities to lose valued friends, refrain from public gatherings, and interacting with service providers because the FGM context is invariably often misunderstood.

It is very important for both the FGM practising communities and for the people who interact with them in different settings to understand these different contexts and their implications in order to act accordingly.

Beliefs and views of participants about FGM

The overall perception of participants regarding FGM was that FGM is barbaric, bad, and a violation of women's rights. A large majority stated that it degrades a woman's dignity and should be stopped. These participants were mostly those who have either already been circumcised forcefully, or had been sensitised about the impact of FGM.

A few participants viewed FGM as a good practice that prepares girls for marriage and helps to keep them clean. Some even advocated for the practice, arguing that the operation should be performed by medical professionals. Some argued that FGM is a long standing traditional practice and an important custom that should not be stopped. They voiced the concern that Western culture is interfering with their culture. A few participants did not give an opinion. Others had mixed feelings. However, most people wanted the practice to be stopped.

RECOMMENDATIONS FROM PARTICIPANTS

An important observation that emerged from the findings was that some people still supported the practice and suggested ways of doing it better[1], whereas a majority rejected it, and also offered ways of stopping it.

  • Strategic awareness campaign be carried out to ensure that Service Providers have a good understanding of FGM and its context
  • Special training to be delivered to health workers on how to deal with mutilated women and FGM related issues
  • There is a need for an organisation that advocates for the rights of women and stands against FGM, and that also protects those that are already circumcised from exclusion by providing the general public with information and a greater understanding of FGM
  • Conduct research through an organisation, identifying the most significant factors on how to stop the practice
  • Establish a helpline that can be used by service users in times of distress or to report an incident of FGM
  • Organise workshops, seminars, and small focus groups within and without FGM communities to help integrate victims and create awareness
  • Initiate effective strategies for outreach to end the underground practice
  • There is the need to involve men in the campaign against FGM
  • Special forums for young people to be established, encouraging the active participation of young people in advocating for change through innovative activities

 

CONCLUSION

From the above findings and analysis,[2] FGM is largely seen as a practice that violates the rights and dignity of women, and has serious health consequences for them. In general, the findings show that people from FGM practising communities feel that they have been bound by this practice for too long. They have endured emotional and physical scars which still affect their families and the way they interact in the community. It is our mission to raise awareness of the issue.

The findings reveal a large gap in the information regarding this practice and highlight the need for an organisation to advocate for the rights of women, to disseminate information about FGM, and act as a training, research and policy body for FGM issues. This organisation will benefit both service users and the entire community by creating a cohesive environment that reduces social exclusion and builds confidence -   and will represent the victims of FGM in a way that has not been done before.

More research still needs to be undertaken to record existing FGM cases, and on where and how FGM is carried out and in which communities it is still practised. Further research also needs to be done into ways in which awareness can be raised on a mass scale, and how to integrate victims into society, without making them feel ashamed or different. Extensive research is also critical to understanding the ways in which health services can best provide for women who have undergone FGM. The issue extends beyond FGM to child trafficking.

As people in Scotland become aware that this practice is not allowed here, offenders tend to run off with potential victims to circumcise them in other countries, or even perform the operation in this country, and then threaten the victim so that she stays silent. There is a need for a social service that specifically looks into these issues and strives to uphold the rights of vulnerable women and girls. Given that the practice of FGM is a new social dilemma in Scotland, the Government and other stakeholders need to prioritise this issue, as the findings from the survey suggest that FGM is still being practised, even here in the UK.


[1] To be carried out in hospital and in the event that it has to be done at home, medication should be applied to ease the pain of the cutting/incision.

[2] Within the scope, the authors cannot claim to have addressed  all of the issues, or to have represented all affected women


For more information - order the booklet from DARF

The DARF booklet highlights the tensions that exist in the silent world of FGM and sends a signal to all the people who care about the issue to keep it high on the agenda, so that the responsible agencies will take note and do their duty properly. Mukami McCrum, MBE

Write to or email the Coordinator dignityalert@hotmail.co.uk.





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