Telegraph Debate: Is Sheffield doing enough to deal with the crime of FGM?


This week’s Telegraph Voices feature focuses on the city’s efforts to banish the illegal practice of female genital mutilation.

Prof Hora Soltani, Professor in Maternal and Infant Health, Sheffield Hallam University

FGM has been practised particularly in countries located in the horn of Africa. Due to population movements, the issue has spread to many other countries in which the public and the professionals

have never heard of such practices and do not know how to deal with it.

There is no health benefit to FGM and in fact, there are great physical and psychosocial risks associated with it for affected girls and women. Understanding factors that may contribute to this tradition and its continuation would be instrumental in finding ways of dealing with, and eliminating it.

Contrary to the common perception, studies show that FGM is not confined to just one religion or tradition. It is widely practised among communities from various faith backgrounds (Christians, Muslims, Traditional African religions and those with no religion).

FGM is considered a serious crime and arranging it for children within the UK or abroad, carries a penalty of 14 years in prison. There is also a mandatory requirement for health care professionals to submit their FGM data for both children and adults. Teachers, social care workers, police forces and other relevant disciplines are also required to work collaboratively to identify and prevent this practice. Reinforcement through law, and training various professionals to identify and deal with FGM, are very important.

There are still 200 million women and girls who are at risk of FGM globally and there are many in Europe, the UK and in Sheffield who are in danger.

What we need to do more in Sheffield and across the country, is public education and awareness raising for all. We need to share information on the severity of the consequences and its associated harms among the affected communities. We should remember they do not intend to harm women or children. They genuinely perceive the practice as beneficial, though evidence suggests it is not.

We need to win people’s hearts and minds. Information is power and sharing knowledge, integrating communities and working with them, could surely have a much deeper impact than just forcing a behaviour change.

Chella Quint, comedian, researcher and founder of #periodpositive

We aren’t doing enough – but we’re on the right track.

FGM is most often performed on young women who are not old enough to consent, or do not have enough information to give informed consent. According to medical literature and personal accounts of the repercussions, this type of operation and the frequent complications lead to reduced pleasure – and usually pain – during everyday activities from using the toilet, to menstruating, to enjoying sex. This is horrifying, and part of a wider issue around reproductive justice here and globally. The practice of FGM is at the extreme end of denying women bodily autonomy and it’s on a spectrum along with things like laws against safe and legal abortion in Northern Ireland.

It may seem this is something people in the UK have not always had to address, and in some ways that is true. It can feel easier to act on taboo topics that may seem foreign or ‘other’, but it’s important to remember that it’s part of a bigger picture.

As a reproductive health researcher, former head of PSHE, and teacher researcher with the Gender Respect Project at DECSY (Development Education Centre South Yorkshire), I have gained insight on how we can do more to address the environment in which challenging FGM would be easier.

I’m aware some of this is already happening thanks to excellent support that is becoming more widely available in Sheffield. At a national level, the government can provide statutory lessons taught by trained and qualified staff, parents can support the programme by ensuring their children attend, and teachers can ensure lessons on FGM and more broad topics around consent and pleasure are in the curriculum.

Dr Parveen Ali, Lecturer, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Sheffield University

Female Genital Mutilation, or female genital cutting or female circumcision, refers to a cultural practice of cutting off parts of the external female genitalia, which is usually performed on very young girls.

It is a harmful practice which is related to significant morbidity and mortality of young girls. According to the World Health Organisation (2012), approximately 100-140 million girls/women, across the world, have experienced FGM. In addition, around 3.3 million girls are at risk of FGM each year.

The practice is a form of violence against women and has severe physical and mental health consequence for the victim ranging from bleeding, psychological trauma to death. Long-term consequences include difficulties in childbirth.

The practice is illegal in many countries including the UK and carries a penalty of up to 14 years’ imprisonment. Since October 31, 2015, all regulated health and social care practitioners and teachers are required to report known and suspected cases of FGM to the police within 48 hours.

They are held personally accountable for it, as the responsibility cannot be transferred to anyone else.

Sheffield has developed a comprehensive strategy aiming to deal with the issue of FGM. The strategy not only aims to protect girls and women from this abuse, but also aims to increase awareness and knowledge of its harmful effects in affected communities to support eradication of the practice.

The strategy also emphasises the need for agencies to work together to ensure provision of appropriate services to those who need it timely and effectively.

The recent protection order to protect two women from being subjected to female genital mutilation is an excellent example of the usefulness of this strategy in Sheffield. I think and hope that this is seen as a strong message about the unacceptability of such a barbaric practice.

Much more needs to be done to eradicate the practice completely, but this is a first and promising step.

Nicola Lambe, chief executive, Ashiana Sheffield

Ashiana Sheffield support women whose lives have been affected by violence and abuse including domestic abuse, forced marriage, FGM, human trafficking and ‘honour’-based violence.

Recently we have been working with communities to support survivors of FGM and to help reduce the prevalence of the practice in Sheffield. This work involves both assisting survivors in their recovery and training some of the survivors to be ‘champions’; these champions then help deliver our awareness-raising sessions in their communities. Having the work led by survivors, alongside community leaders and volunteers from the affected communities, not only breaks down barriers and ensures that we don’t alienate the very people we need to support but also gives our campaigning and awareness-raising in Sheffield and beyond a legitimacy that means we are listened to.

Sheffield FGM Task and Finish group (made up of the local authority, schools, safeguarding children’s board, police, midwives, NHS leads, MAST team and community representatives) has recently developed an FGM strategy and pathway for the city – Ashiana were part of that group.

We continue to develop our work with communities and are building on our audience to increase knowledge of this practice in Sheffield communities, fighting to eliminate it altogether in our city.

FGM is not a ‘communities’ problem; the girls and women affected are Sheffield girls and women so this needs a Sheffield response. The good work already done across the city desperately needs further resources and funding to develop a dedicated FGM support service to ensure that no woman or girl in the city suffers the devastating effects of FGM alone and in silence. We can empower the women and their communities to stamp out this cruel practice – but we need to work together to do it.