6 May 2014

REPLACE 2 Conference April 2014

Guest blog by Courtney Perlmutter. 

Courtney Perlmutter is studying Human Rights and International Relations for her Masters at the University of Roehampton. She has previously written with the Bar Human Rights Committee for the Parliamentary Inquiry into Female Genital Mutilation. 

The REPLACE project sets out to develop a new community-based approach to eradicate FGM, through community participation. REPLACE has identified a number of barriers preventing the cessation of FGM in the EU, inclusive of religious beliefs and a lack of communication about the issue. The project was developed in the one year EU Daphne III funded REPLACE, and has allowed for the development of the REPLACE Pilot Toolkit, featuring the REPLACE Behavioral Change Cyclic Framework1.

The REPLACE2 conference took place on Friday 11th April at Coventry University’s London Campus, following the REPLACE1 conference that was held in Brussels, focusing on ‘Prevention or Prosecution? The Behavior Change Approach to Tackling FGM in the EU’. 

The morning kicked off with teas and coffees and poster displays from A. Faraca on ‘Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting in the context of migration: a work-in-progress research in Florence and Perugia’; E. Clarke on ‘FGM clinical standards for FGM services’; Dr. S. Wendoh on ‘Tackling FGM at home and abroad: Where are the girls?’ Dr. A. Stuckert on ‘Plan Study in Hamburg on Knowledge; Attitudes and Practice regarding FGM: “Listening to African Voices”’; A. E Andwansedo on ‘Approach to Combating FGM in FGM practicing Communities’; Dr. A.M Wilson from 28 Too Many on ‘How FGM research and learning from ending foot binding inform collaborative working strategies to end FGM globally’; and finally C. Kaila on ‘United to END FGM (EUFGM) E-Learning Course for Health and Asylum professionals’2.

After a contextual introduction on FGM, Professor Hazel Barrett (Replace Project Lead) set the agenda for the day, where each of the REPLACE partners introduced themselves, their organisations, and what they would be discussing. These included FORWARD UK; FSAN; CESIE; APF and Gabinet. 

The day kicked off by video presentations by Norman Baker MP who emphasized that although government action is vital in playing a part towards the eradication of FGM, it cannot be solved purely by the government alone, stressing the importance of frontline professionals. Interestingly, Baker suggested that the UK’s FGM Act (2003) has been successful in acting as a deterrent, whilst noting that although it is important to prevent FGM from taking place in the first instance, it must be recognized that there are currently two prosecutions underway by the CPS. Concluding, he argued that FGM is not going to end in the UK before it ends in across African States. 

The second video presentation was from Lynne Featherstone, (Minister for International developments) who highlighted that a 35 million pound investment that has been made for programs in efforts to eradicate FGM must focus on countries in a top ten priority list in order to support the African and diaspora voices who speak out, so that they can be amplified. Finally, she stressed that a deeper understanding of FGM is needed, (i.e. Where/Why/What are the critical drivers?) in addition to understanding ‘what interventions are most effective and why?’ and ‘how are women and girls empowered?’

Dr. Els Leye was first to take to the floor with her presentation on ‘Striking the Right Balance between protection, prosecution and prevention’. Her presentation highlighted:

  • Implementation of FGM specific laws is one of the strategies used to abandon the practice of FGM in Africa and Europe, as it has perceived advantages which include offering legal protection and acting as a deterrent. 
  • Debates surrounding the implementation of laws include issues of stigmatizing and discriminating cultures versus assisting police interventions. 
  • France has no FGM specific legislation, as general criminal law applies, which has seen the highest number of court cases in Europe. 
  • The problematic nature of reporting FGM cases and finding sufficient evidence as there is not only deficient knowledge on how to deal with FGM, but also the absence of the implementation of the principle of extra-territoriality. 
  • Some professionals are eager to react, and when they report girls at risk, this has not necessarily been the case, highlighting over-sensitivity issues.
  • Gynecological screening is one example of how to enhance law implementation 
  • Prevention of FGM faces challenges including limited tools that are targeted at FGM practicing communities 
  • Recommendations that included a development of a National Action Plan and budget, ‘to enhance coordination, accountability and monitoring’; training of child protection officers/judicial sector; and an experience exchange between countries. 

Workshops were then held which included presentations by FORWARD on community interventions; Armitage et al on ‘Pediatric FGM in London and the UNICEF report; a local perspective on worldwide statistics’ held by Lauren Berg; Hillary Burrage on ‘The real economics of FGM: it’s more than just ‘wages’; and Elise Johansen on ‘Surgery as leverage for change: A study of girls and women with type III FGC seeking surgical procedures to undo their infibulation’.  The messages that were given out from this included: 

  • The absence of FGM teaching in medical training
  • What language is best? Should medical practitioners learn local terminology so to avoid discrimination, to increase understanding and develop a willingness to speak out?
  • When assessing risk, the mother’s experience of FGM is important.
  • Monetary transactions play a key role in FGM
  • Local and regional economies could potentially benefit if FGM ceased 
  • There are a variety of factors that motivate and discourage Women from defibulation

The afternoon began with a keynote presentation by Ifrah Ahmed who spoke of her recent visit to Somalia, and told of how she offered money to some parents in exchange for promising to not go ahead with the imminent cutting of their young daughter prior to authorities stepping in.  Leyla Hussein then took over, and spoke about how FGM is seen as moral in the community and that girls want to be like their peers. She emphasized the need for political will for community campaigning, as although prosecution is important, community engagement is essential. 

The final presentations focused on prosecution and prevention. Kicking off was E. Clarke on ‘FGM Underground: Mind the Gap’. The key conclusion from her presentation was that there is currently no strategy for training midwives on diagnosis, and that securing a prosecution and conviction is unlikely unless all the gaps are bridged. Brown et al, Linda Ederberg and Fabienne Richard presented on prevention strategies, which all stressed the importance of community based behavior change. 

Wrapping up the conference, was a panel Q&A with Ifrah, Leyla and Els. Questions and comments were thrown out from the audience, which included:

  • Leyla Hussein – we don’t have rescue houses for people at risk of FGM 
  • Support for FGM survivors is currently inadequate and needs to be improved
  • Is a central register an early warning alternative to prison? 
  • Are prison sentences a barrier to professionals reporting?
  • Prof Hazel Barret – building trust up between police and minority groups is essential…and a challenge 
  • Leyla Hussein - importance of men only spaces to discuss the issue
  • Engaging men is key to ending FGM, men often don’t recognize the severity of the intervention

More information on REPLACE can be found on their website and the REPLACE 2 conference program can be found here

28 Too Many researches FGM and campaigns to end the practice in the 28 African countries where it is practised and across the global diaspora. You can support our work by donating to fund our research and keep up to date with our progress by liking our page on Facebook and following us on Twitter.