28 August 2012

Guest Blog from Laura McKeever, 28 Too Many Volunteer

Until earlier this year, I had not heard of FGM, but I had heard of ‘female circumcision’. The words ‘female circumcision’ had led me to believe that there were some communities around the world that performed a female version of circumcision that many of us are familiar with in the west. I assumed that it was a cultural practice that came with minor health benefits; it wasn’t until I began studying towards my BSc in Medical Science and Humanities that I became aware of the gruesome truth.

 As a part of my degree, I have taken a particularly strong interest in sexual and reproductive health in the developing world. In June this year, I had my first experience in volunteering abroad. I chose to go to Ghana with my classmates, and prior to arriving there I decided to research some of the barriers to safe maternal health. I found that while FGM is not something that is commonly practiced inGhana, it still exists, with very few barriers preventing it. In addition to this, I discovered that many women would come from neighbouringTogo, desperately seeking help from their Ghanian neighbours when faced with the prospect of giving birth as a woman that has experienced FGM.

 I began to wonder whether women in the UK had suffered at the hands of those who perform FGM, expecting to find that our country was home to refugees who had been subjected to the procedure under duress in their home countries. I discovered that not only was FGM performed in theUK, but there had been no prosecutions against those who had performed or allowed it, and that 24,000 girls aged between 2-12 are at risk of it.

 Naturally, I was shocked and appalled to discover that in theUK, we provide hardly any barriers to FGM. While we have had legislation that makes it a criminal act since 1985–which has been significantly adapted in 2003–it appears that our government makes little to no effort to provide the campaigns or training needed to make this legislation anything more than a rhetoric filled act. While our French contemporaries closely monitor girls who are at risk, we have members of parliament who have not heard of the practice. In addition to this, FGM does not appear to be formally highlighted while training healthcare professionals and social workers, despite it posing a serious risk to the physical and mental well being of thousands of young girls and women across theUK.

 It is thanks to the laissez-faire approach adopted here in the UK, as well as in many other countries around the world, that FGM continues to be so prevalent. Until governments across the world take a united and consistent stance in educating communities, enforcing legislation, and promoting those who are at risk, millions of girls worldwide will continue to suffer. According to our government’s manifesto, they ‘are improving child protection by toughening up the inspection regime and reducing bureaucracy so that professionals can better respond to children’s needs.’ If that truly is the case, I believe that our government now has a responsibility to step up to the mark, take a direct stance, and help the UK become one of the world’s first countries to eliminate the practice of FGM. Throughout my education and career, I intend to make eliminating the practice of FGM here, and around the world, one of my biggest focuses. Hopefully the recent coverage of FGM in the media has heralded the start of a new era, one in which young women are able to receive the protection they deserve.