Other cities need to follow Bristol’s lead in tackling FGM

Bristol's coordinated approach involves the affected communities at all levels of education

According to the latest figures published by the Health and Social Care Information Centre, hospitals in England discovered around 15 cases of FGM per day during November. Over the course of the month 466 cases of FGM were reported.

Roughly a third of NHS trusts did not submit their findings to the HSCIC, meaning that the real number is likely to be even higher. Despite the prevalence of the practice – estimates suggest around 20,000 girls are at risk in England and Wales – noone has ever been convicted of performing it in the UK.

There is currently one trial underway, that of London doctor Dhanuson Dharmasena who is accused of replacing a woman’s FGM stitches after they were torn in labour.

The difficulty of securing a prosecution can be attributed to a number of factors; low levels of investigation by police, the difficulty of building evidence when faced with silence from the community, and perhaps most worryingly, the fact that frontline practitioners often hesitate to make referrals because they are afraid they will be accused of racism or cultural insensitivity.

Underpinning all this though, is the fact that there is a very low level of self reporting by victims of FGM. This is not surprising given that they are usually very young when the procedure takes place and are taught that FGM is a positive, necessary thing. Furthermore, it is usually instigated by people who they know love and care for them, so it can be hard to conceptualise it as abuse.

This is why local councils need to do far more to install education initiatives in every school. Simply prosecuting is not enough; if the myths surrounding FGM are not disbanded then girls risk being stigmatised by their community if they do not undergo it. FGM should be featured on every school curriculum, and be taught to both boys and girls from a young age.

For a long time Bristol has been leading the way in tackling FGM. The city, which has a large Somali community, has garnered attention for its coordinated and community-led approach.

The city council’s public health team leads what is known as the Bristol Model, a Delivery and Safeguarding Partnership comprised of a network of statutory agencies, volunteer groups, charities and community leaders.

Nimko Ali, the founder of the Daughters of Eve campaign, has praised Bristol’s approach, in which teachers, NHS staff, police and survivors all work together to spread awareness of the dangers of FGM, and to help those at risk find appropriate support.

In 2013, the North Bristol NHS Trust asked midwives to check all of their patients for FGM and 117 cases were found. All schools in Bristol have been offered in-house FGM awareness training.

The Integrate Bristol project was awarded £19,807 in government funding for its flagship FGM initiative. This funding has helped to train 10 young people from communities affected by the practice to travel to schools and colleges across the country. It also works with mothers who are considering FGM for their daughters, and with young men to raise awareness of the reality of FGM procedures.

In 2013 the Bristol Community Rose Clinic opened, with the aim of providing care and support for women experiencing problems as a result of undergoing FGM. In November the clinic won an award for excellence in healthcare. Crucially, women from the local community were involved in developing the service at the Rose Clinic. It is vital that services are designed with advice from women who understand the rhetoric surrounding the practice.

In 2007 I worked at a health centre in Bristol where the majority of patients were from Somali or South Asian backgrounds. There were not even leaflets about FGM in the surgery. Today that health centre has a specialist drop-in clinic for girls and women worried about the issue.

It will be a while before we can numerically depict the benefits of Bristol’s campaigns – it may not be until we see the next generation of young women choosing not to ‘cut’ their daughters. But in Bristol, people are talking about FGM at all levels.

In 2013 the Bristol Safeguarding Children Board estimated that up to 2,000 girls in the city are at risk of FGM. There are similar estimates for Manchester and higher ones for Leeds. Meanwhile it was estimated that nearly 4,000 girls were admitted to hospitals in London between 2009 and 2014, having already undergone the procedure.

That is 4,000 women already mutilated for life, facing a future of severe pain and health risks. This is no longer a marginal issue – it is a human rights disaster happening in the middle of London. It needs to be brought into the very mainstream of public health education, and Bristol has provided a model of how to do that.

Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter

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11 Responses to “Other cities need to follow Bristol’s lead in tackling FGM”

  1. Matthew Blott

    It makes a change for me to read something on FGB without seeing a comment by some faux leftie making the cretinous comparison with male circumcision.

  2. Guest

    You came and did it, after all.

  3. Matthew Blott

    No I didn’t.

  4. damon

    It’s a strange issue this. If anyone says that the people who do this are backward, there is unease or even anger by people on the British left – because it sounds racist, or the kind of thing racists would say.
    When I was in Egypt on holiday, I found it very hard to have respect for a people and culture where this practice was so common. The same must be the case if you work with, go to school with, or have neighbours who think that it’s OK to do this. And may only not do it in the UK because it’s illegal.
    That’s a bit like Islamic fundamentalists who say that gays and apostates should be killed, but only in a country under Islamic law.

  5. trekker2002

    ‘it may not be until we see the next generation of young women choosing not to ‘cut’ their daughters.’

    I don’t think we can afford to wait until people ‘choose’ not to do it. It needs to be very clearly stated that the procedure is illegal in the UK and will lead to Child Protection procedures being implemented should any family or practitioner choose to break the law. We have been too reticent about confronting FGM for far too long and the result has been thousands of young girls and young women having their lives blighted.

  6. Stormbringer

    I’m a centre-right libertarian and I think it is obvious that Male circumcision is different to Female Genital Mutilation, never-the-less, as a good Atheist I don’t understand why religious people are so obsessed with the genitalia of children.

    If it isn’t Jews wanting to chop-off the foreskin of infant boys (many without any medical training and, yes, there have been mistakes) then we also have those of the Islamic religion as well as other cults practicing FGM and let’s not forget the Catholic church’s paedo problem or Christian sects such as the “Children of God”.

    What on Earth is the matter with these people and why can’t they just keep their feverish hands off children’s private parts?

    What is it about their cretinous creeds that commands them to mess around with children’s genitalia?

    Here’s a novel thought – non-therapeutic male circumcisions for anyone under the age of 16 should be banned so that the defenseless infant is allowed to grow into an informed adult who can then decide for himself whether they want to risk any complications or the possibility of infection in unnecessarily undergoing surgery on their own penis?

    After all, that’s the legal restriction (as long as they’re accompanied by a parent) for someone wanting to get a Tattoo on their bodies in the UK and that seems entirely fair, reasonable and just.


  7. Leon Wolfeson

    Yes, how dare other people not be a good little vulgar liberatran like you and be obsessed only with starving kids, as you show your far-right intolerance, as you as usual for your creed go right after the Jews.

    What a surprise.
    Got any more myths to tell about your views?

    Here’s a novel thought – if you like totalitarianism, go to China.

  8. Guest

    So you’re claiming your post does not exist.

  9. Matthew Blott

    What cretinous comparison did I make?

  10. Guest

    You’re claiming you didn’t read your own post now.. Look, you came here, Faux Leftie, and commented on it.

    And for that matter, using cretin as an insult is nasty too.

  11. Stormbringer

    “Yes, how dare other people not be a good little vulgar liberatran like
    you and be obsessed only with starving kids, as you show your far-right
    intolerance, as you as usual for your creed go right after the Jews”

    And your reading comprehension is completely compromised – try actually reading my comment. I didn’t single out Jews but, as an atheist, I have no idea why all those who practice Judaism, Islam and Christianity are so utterly obsessed with children’s privates?

    Do you know why?

    “Got any more myths to tell about your views?”

    No “myths”, Jews, Muslims and many Christians really are obsessed with children’s genitalia hence FGM, MGM (Male Genital Mutilation often known as Circumcision) and all the countless child victims of Christain rapists (be they Catholic priests or members of the Children of God cult).

    “Here’s a novel thought – if you like totalitarianism, go to China.”

    As an admitted centre-right Libertarian who loves liberty and freedom then why would I, of all people, want to live in a Totalitarian Society? Let alone, a Communist country like China?

    You haven’t thought this through at all. In fact, you have thought at all. Always helps before posting comments.

    “You are all for murdering as many poor people as possible”

    And where on Earth did you get any of that from? Is it because I think that all people of faith should keep their filthy mitts off children’s private parts?

    You’re rather defensive aren’t you? I wonder why?

    “but magically it’s only when Jews are involved you care,”

    You willfully missed the bit where I wrote about Islam and Christianity.

    Obviously you have no arguments at all to advance to challenge my contention that religious people have a thoroughly unnatural preoccupation with children’s genitalia. The fact that you have actually done this only serves to demonstrate that I have really touched a nerve here and you know only all too well that it’s perfectly true – religious people are obsessed with children’s genitalia.

    “as you are worried more about the rights of microbes not to be involved in an infection than the people of this country”


    The last part of what you have written really is the most insane and inane gibberish that makes no sense at all.

    What on Earth do mean? Assuming that you actually know.

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