I don’t know if anyone saw the news last week that the NHS is now collecting data and recording cases of Female Genital Mutilation? It is a great step forward.
In my role as a Cabinet member in Newham I have responsibility for preventing violence against women and girls. This information will help us understand how big the issue is and therefore how long our journey is to eradicating it. However, there is no point in collecting data without supporting the women behind the figures.
Yesterday, I spoke on a panel with the police, social services, survivors and others at a very useful event in Canning Town (expertly chaired by Councillor Ann Easter!). It was run by our FGM prevention service to get the message out to professionals. They showed this very moving video which I would urge you to watch and share.
Lets not mince our words, FGM is about cutting a woman’s vagina with a knife. This can mean taking a blade to a five year old girl’s genitals without any pain relief causing long lasting damage, physical and psychological.
No religious, social or cultural justification can defend a practice so blatantly rooted in gender inequality. Controlling female sexuality causing severe damage in return for an idea about women’s purity and men’s enjoyment.
So, despite the huge cuts to our budget, Newham have just set up an FGM prevention service as part of our One stop Shop for sexual and domestic violence. It is the first of its kind in the country, and we need it to do three things:
Firstly, to help us better understand the problem by undertaking research and collecting comprehensive data.
Secondly, to support those affected and to work with those at risk. This will be done through casework advocacy, and empowering victims to report to the police. The service has already run training for hundreds of professionals to help them recognise the problem, including all of the local maternity department.
Thirdly and finally, to challenge, and change behaviours. In addition to yesterday’s event the service has already held dozens of community events including the one I mention here with the Forest Gate W.I. In addition, they are training community champions and organising awareness raising campaigns.
Sadly, of course, all of this is being delivered in the context of this Tory government rapidly shrinking our funds and decimating support across the country such as rape counselling and domestic violence services.
So the news about the NHS recording FGM figures is all good but if the funding and services aren’t available to support those affected it will amount to very little.
FGM is illegal and can land you in prison for 14 years. It doesn’t exist in any world I want to be a part of. We need to dig out the roots and we need the political will, the practical commitment and the essential resources to eradicate for ever a practice that has no place in the 21st Century.
If you would like to receive training or help run a community event please do get in touch with me. If you would like to talk to the service for support they are based in our One Stop Shop for domestic and sexual violence which has a 24 help line on 0845 451 2547.