29 April 2014

Why we must all help end FGM

Guest blog by 28 Too Many supporter Nigeen Akram.

I have always held great interest in health which has lead me to pursue a career as a doctor regardless of its demanding nature; for this reason, I will write a series of blog posts to help raise awareness on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) which is still prominent in some communities although it is extremely dangerous.

In the following blog I will discuss an overview of FGM and in future posts I hope to look in more detail at different aspects of FGM and what is being done to end it.

FGM is a devastating and totally unnecessary practice so I am pleased that in recent years there has been an increase in attention on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the United Kingdom and internationally.  It entails injuring the female genital organ and is defined as; "Procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons" by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

This violation of human right of females is usually carried out by women that hold no medical training. Anaesthetic is not generally used during the procedure and unsterile knives or scissors may be used for the cut, while the victim is vigorously restrained.

There are no health benefits to performing FGM. Essentially, it is a detrimental procedure with lifelong consequences for the victim. Effects that may immediately take place after cutting include shock, bleeding, infection, injury to healthy tissues and the inability to urinate. Long term effects include; abnormal periods, kidney impairment, complications in pregnancy, lack of sensation and mental health problems (note that these side effects depend on the type of cut). In addition, case studies have shown that FGM is a highly traumatic experience which may stay with a woman for the rest of her life.

FGM is currently deemed an illegal practice in the UK. In 2003 a new legislation was passed stating that, offenders (who are citizens of the United Kingdom) could face 14 years of imprisonment along with a large fine; this law extends to Wales and Northern Ireland. However, it is estimated that a large percentage of young girls are still at risk undercover. Luckily, there are active campaigns and relentless campaigners across the UK working to eradicate FGM both within the UK and globally where this harmful procedure is prevalent.

Currently many projects are being launched across the United Kingdom envisioning to bring an end to FGM. The UK government launched an action plan in 2011 attempting to tackle female genital cutting. To raise awareness a short video has been posted on the National Health Services (NHS) website. This short clip aims to provide information on the health risks of FGM and is targeted at communities where the practice of FGM is prevalent. To further tackle female cuttings ministers have shown their support to end this practice by signing a declaration against FGM. In addition, funding has been provided to agencies that aim to abolish FGM. Essentially, research into FGM will play a big role in understanding this practice in terms of the effects and cures to treat the victims; for this reason funding has also been provided to researchers in order to attain more knowledge towards FGM which is deemed a taboo subject in some communities.

Frontline organisations campaigning on FGM in the UK such as ’28 Too Many’, 'Equality Now, ‘Daughters of Eve', ‘The Orchid Project’ and 'FORWARD' have all raised concerns over the effectiveness of strategies to tackle FGM. They have suggested that there needs be more coordination at government level and that training should be made available to organisations to increase awareness and understanding on multi-agency guidelines. Furthermore, it has been put forward in a recent Inter-Collegiate report on Tackling FGM in the UK that professionals need to be able to identify FGM prevention cases, so a reassessment of the Common Assessment Framework is vital. Finally, there needs to be a standardised method of data collection in order to analyse and evaluate FGM cases.

FGM is a widespread problem affecting millions of women and girls. It is good that there is more media attention and that more is being done by Governments to prevent FGM and protect those at risk but much more needs to be done to end this terrible practice and it is important that this is a sustained effort. We all need to make sure FGM is stopped and that those affected by it receive understanding and support.

If you would like to help women like Edna and protect girls and women from FGM please support 28 Too Many's work to end FGM. You can donate to fund our research and projects, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Thank you.