Sunday, 13 May 2012

The Bristol Compromise Part 2: Tackling Female Circumcision

The City of Bristol is at the forefront of tackling Unnecessary Female Circumcision at a local level in the UK – at the same time the city actively promotes, encourages and supports Unnecessary Male Circumcision.

We introduced this subject in our previous post The Bristol Compromise: An Unequal Approach To Tackling Genital Mutilation.

This post focuses on the groundbreaking work currently undertaken in Bristol to tackle Unnecessary Female Circumcision (also known as Female Genital Mutilation). There are two reasons for doing this. Firstly it enables us to contrast this work with the approach the city takes to tackling Unnecessary Male Circumcision. Secondly it gives us an understanding of the type of work we might want and expect the public and not-for-profit sector to be undertaking to tackle Unnecessary Male Circumcision in the future.

Bristol has come under the national spotlight recently after a local Muslim leader, the Imam Mohammed Abdul, was filmed advising members of his community to "take women and girls abroad so they can be circumcised legally" according to reports in the Daily Mail, the Sunday Times and local press

The city is committed to tackling what’s become known as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) with “social workers and health professionals working together in Bristol to convince communities that female genital mutilation is abuse” – according to an excellent report on tackling FGM in Community Care magazine.

The breadth of activity is impressive. FGM has become an issue of international concern with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and UNICEF working together to end female gential mutilation/ cutting 

At a national level FGM is covered in the Home Office’s strategy to end violence against women and girls and is covered in legislations by the The Female Genital Mutilation Act which not only makes it illegal to carry out FGM in the UK, but also makes it illegal to support FGM happening in anyway. For example advising parents on where they can take their daughters to be circumcised abroad is illegal – even if the practice is lawful in that country. 

At a city level Female Genital Mutilation sits within Bristol’s definition of domestic violence and abuse and is tackled as part of a citywide Violence and Abuse Against Women and Girls Strategy which is overseen by the Bristol Domestic Abuse Forum (BDAF)
which involves a broad range of partners including the council, the NHS, the police, charities and community and voluntary organisations.

In addition to the work of the BDAF, the city’s Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) is proactive in tackling FGM.

Every area of the country is required to set up and run a LCSB under the Children Act 2004 – the intention is that these boards co-ordinate and quality assure the activities of any local organisations involved in safeguarding children.

What this demonstrates is that when it comes to tackling Unnecessary Female Circumcision in Bristol – there is a huge weight of support from the UN, the UK government and the city’s leaders that enables that work to take place. 

Within this context people are empowered to speak out about this difficult issue. For example a small group of women staged an anti-FGM march, a local Labour MP has backed anti-FGM campaigns and so have Bristol Labour Students. Even groups as diverse as the South West Nationalists  and the Bristol Feminist Network have an opposition to FGM in common.

At the heart of the city’s drive to combat FGM is Jackie Mathers, NHS Bristol’s designated nurse for safeguarding children, who co-ordinated the development of the city's FGM prevention strategy which is overseen by Bristol's Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) safeguarding group (which is a subgroup of the Bristol Safeguarding Children Board).

A key plank of the strategy is to ensure that all practitioners working with children and families know how to spot FGM and if they become aware of a victim, make a child protection referral.

In addition, a broad range of activities in the city are helping to support Bristol’s drive to end FGM:

The Bristol Healthy Schools Project - which is supported by the Department of Health, the Department of Education and the NHS runs Safeguarding Children and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) awareness raising training and recommends that every school in the city send at least 2 members of staff on this training. The aim of the course is train staff how to spot children at risk of FGM and know how to make a referral to child protection agencies when they identify female genital mutilation or have concerns that female genital mutilation may be practiced.

The charity FORWARD (The Foundation for Women's Health, Research and Development) -  has been awarded a £30-40,000 contract for outreach work with community groups and hosted a conference Ending Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Together in Bristol.

Sessions to encourage men to help stop FGM have been backed by Detective Chief Inspector Dave McCallum of Avon and Somerset Police backing the drive and calling on men to break their silence on FGM.

A local campaigner from the Somali Community, Nimco Ali, has co-founded a campaign group Daughters of Eve.

Another community initiative, the Somali Development Group was commissioned by the Government Office South West  and the Home Office to “produce a program to empower and protect young girls from FGM”.

Students in the city made a film aimed at raising awareness of female genital mutilation (FGM) and highlighting the myths surrounding the subject. The 12-minute drama-documentary, called Silent Scream, was been made by 27 Bristol students aged between 14-17. The film was screened locally and won the students a 'Chief Constable's Special Commendation for work to prevent FGM' which was presented by Chief Constable Colin Port, of Avon and Somerset Police.

In September last year BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour aired a drama documentary on female genital mutilation (FGM) written by a group of Bristol teenage girls who had been affected.

Bristol CSB, Bristol NHS and Forward are running a series of "zero tolerance" events. The third, on 15 February, attracted 65 people, mostly from FGM-practising communities. 

Integrate Bristol, a charity formed to help with the integration and adaptation of young people and children who have arrived from other countries and cultures, has been awarded funding from Lankelly Chase Foundation to host the First National Conference on FGM in Bristol in July 2012. 

Collectively these actions are causing an increase in referrals of FGM cases, more openness with community groups and stronger multi-agency working. All of which demonstrates an extraordinary level of commitment from a broad range of individuals and organisations all taking action to tackle Unnecessary Female Circumcision in city.

Click on the links below to read the two related posts:

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