FGM happens to children. Let us be explicit about this fact.
The average age for FGM occurrence is between the ages of five and eight years old. However this varies from community to community – and in some communities it can even happen to babies as young as two weeks old who have their clitorises removed with a finger nail.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is defined by the WHO as all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the female genitalia, and/or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. A FORWARD study estimated that 24,000 girls under the age of 15 are at high risk of the most severe type of FGM. In 2001 a WHO study estimated that 140 million women and girls worldwide had undergone FGM. Given that the prevalence in many countries has not decreased, we can assume that this number is now a gross underestimation.
2013 marks the 10th anniversary of the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003. Since the Act was passed by parliament the UK Government has made preliminary efforts in the FGM campaign, including the Multi Agency Guidelines; the FGM related action points in the Home Office’s VAWG Action plan and the Metropolitan Police’s Project Azure. Anecdotal evidence from Project Azure has found that a large portion of their referrals come from education professionals. Teachers are amongst the best placed frontline professionals to not only aid the prevention of FGM, but also provide support for girls who have undergone the procedure. Due to the proximity of teachers to students, they are able to identify early signs of abuse including FGM.
Despite the rationale stated above, educational professionals are still reluctant to engage on FGM – this is coupled with the reluctance of the Department for Education to include FGM in any safeguarding procedures, training or national curriculum requirements. FGM is considered as a child abuse in the UK – yet experience has shown that it is not being treated as such.
FORWARD’s experience in schools has shown that the majority of staff is unaware of FGM. However, once staff receive training they are keen to discuss a school-wide approach for engagement on FGM. FORWARD’s Youth Programme has completed a nine month pilot schools project in Greenwich, in which three schools were engaged and over 600 participants reached. Engagement involved staff training and awareness raising sessions for young people.
The project was received positively by an overwhelming majority of the participants and evaluation showed that participants knowledge of FGM increased, and schools were integrating FGM into their child protection policies AND curriculum. The project was highlighted by London Assembly Member James Cleverly as “Good practice [that] should be carried out throughout London.”
FORWARD’s youth programme led schools project has created youth friendly FGM resources. This is important as a way to ensure that those most affected – and at risk of FGM (young girls) are able to access vital information about FGM. These resources have been used in schools around the UK. The resources include an FGM FAQs booklet– a campaigners guide to answering difficult questions; The FGM Game – a Bristol based resource used to engage students in years seven to nine, in safe conversations about FGM; an FGM online forum to support young people in Rochdale to confidentially access FGM related information and finally, 16 Ways to Help End FGM – a resource to guide young people on possible FGM campaign actions.
Given the impact and potential scope of schools based FGM work, FORWARD believes that the UK Government must implement the following actions:
• All teachers to undergo Child Protection training, which includes comprehensive information about FGM.
• Support schools to include FGM into their safeguarding policies and procedures.
• Include FGM in the National Curriculum to ensure young people are informed about FGM, know where to access support, and identify FGM as a form of Gender Based Violence and Child Abuse.
• Ensure that sessions for young people are delivered appropriately, sensitively and with the use of youth friendly resources.
FGM is happening to girls. We need to work collectively to ensure that girls are protected from undergoing FGM, and that those who have already undergone it are supported through this trauma. Schools play a critical role in enabling this.
For further information about FORWARD’s work in schools or resources please contact [email protected]
Twitter – @FORWARDUK and @FORWARD_Youth
Download the [FGM FAQ’s: A Campaigner’s Guide for Young People](https://forwarduk.org.uk/download/290) here. **(Please note the statistic on page 3 in the printed version is incorrect and should read ‘It is estimated that around 140 million women have been affected by FGM worldwide). We will rectify this in the printed version ASAP.**