24 February 2016
Two US gynaecologists argue that some forms of female genital mutilation should be legalised – but as a midwife I know there’s never a justification for this devastating practice.
Over the last few years, the campaign to end female genital mutilation (FGM) across the world has picked up momentum. And to date, we’ve made some fantastic progress.
A range of measures to support the government’s ambition of eradicating new cases of FGM by 2020 have been put in place. This included mandatory reporting for teachers, social workers and other regulated professionals, while health professionals in England now have to record FGM cases so that we can better understand the scale of the issue.
Yet, this week two American gynaecologists have written in the British Journal of Medical Ethics arguing that some “mild” forms of FGM should be legalised to “allow families to uphold cultural and religious traditions while protecting girls from more dangerous forms of cutting”. This ludicrous statement must feel like a slap in the face to all the brave survivors who have come out publicly, sharing details of their most intimate body part, in an effort to raise awareness and end FGM.
As a senior midwife with more than 15 years’ experience working with women affected by FGM, currently at the FGM centre run by Barnardo’s with the Local Government Association, I’ve seen first-hand the impact this form of abuse can have on women and girls. Most people immediately think of the physical consequences of FGM, but a large part of the damage that is done to the 200 million-plus women and girls affected across the world is hidden and many of those who have undergone FGM suffer a range of emotional and psychological problems. These women and girls have undergone severe trauma. They often feel like they have been betrayed by the ones closest to them; this feeling of betrayal and mistrust shouldn’t be taken lightly.
FGM’s main purpose is to control the sexuality of women and girls. Contrary to the belief of many affected communities, there isn’t a single health benefit to FGM. Evidence has shown us that it’s very much the contrary.
The National FGM Centre, works closely with survivors, affected communities, professionals and other non-profit organisations to protect girls at risk of FGM while supporting those who have already been cut.
Within three months of operating in low prevalence areas across England, the centre provided support to 70 girls and their families. In our experience of conducting research on FGM we have come across a number of women who have had “milder” forms of FGM and who suffer from serious psychological, relationship and sexual health problems.
Leyla Hussein, an FGM survivor and psychotherapist who works with girls affected by the practice confirmed this. Having met women who have suffered a range of different procedures classified as FGM, she says that there’s no “safe nick”. Although there are women who may experience no serious health consequences, there is no guarantee that the procedure will not incur serious emotional, sexual or physical consequences.
FGM is child abuse, full stop. No matter if it’s pricking, nicking or tucking any part of a girl’s genitalia against her will. Most survivors are scarred internally and externally by this harmful practice and have to learn to live with it for life.
We’ve come a long way in our efforts to raise awareness of FGM. Let’s not go backwards by accepting some forms of this practice which is simply another form of violence against women and girls. It’s abuse, so let’s treat it as such – no ifs, no buts, and no exceptions.