AFRUCA Study On FGM in Greater Manchester – Summary
Voices of the Community:
Exploring Female Genital Mutilation in the African Community across Greater Manchester
Executive Summary: Key Findings and Recommendations
This AFRUCA study focusing on attitudes towards and experiences of Female Genital Mutilation by African communities in Greater Manchester took place between July and December 2014 and involved focus group sessions held with 110 participants (98 women, 12 men) drawn from 12 different communities across the region. The study concluded that the practice of different types of female genital mutilation exists across many different African communities in Greater Manchester. Many participants who took part in the focus groups did not want to admit to having any previous knowledge or personal experience of FGM or its occurrence in their communities. We believe this denial stemmed from a possible fear of admitting to having knowledge of a practice which is illegal in this country.
Many of the participants did not agree that FGM should be a criminal offence because it is part of their culture which had been done for generations. It is clear that many did not consider this practice as constituting “mutilation” but a cultural practice – female circumcision – akin to male circumcision which is not illegal in the UK. In addition, some of the communities said even though they had heard about FGM, they never connected this with female circumcision so did not see their communities as perpetrators of female genital mutilation or committing acts which are illegal in the UK. Even though most of the countries of origin do have laws against FGM these are often on paper and not enforced, with most people unaware of these laws and their impact as there are hardly any prosecutions. This shows there is a need to focus on educating communities about UK legislation on FGM.
In particular, some participants did not consider labia elongation (pulling of the labia) which comes under the category of Type Four as female genital mutilation and therefore felt it was not covered by UK law. Four different communities where labia elongation is practised (Zimbabwe, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi) and who took part in the study did not agree that labia elongation could be considered as mutilation in any way.
We note the “culture of silence” and reluctance by some focus groups participants to admit to knowing anyone who would perform FGM, but saying everyone knew where to go if they needed a ‘cutter’.
Allied to this is the fact that a few of the participants admitted to knowing that children are being taken back to their countries of origin to have FGM procedures done, especially during the summer holidays. It means immigration agencies must be aware of the fact that based on this piece of work by AFRUCA, children from many different communities may be at risk, and efforts to safeguard children at points of departure must be broad-based and not just focus on a few identified communities.
The ‘culture of silence’ around FGM was also evident in participants telling us most people would not inform others if they were going to perform the procedure on their children; the point being that FGM is a ‘private practice’ where everyone involved is committed to keeping it within the family. There are implications of this for disclosure by children – and indeed it could be a reason why children may not disclose that they have had FGM done to them.
It is clear that many of the participants did not consider there to be any risks in relation to the practice. In particular, popular myths about Female Circumcision (mutilation) and the reasons for having it done were widely believed by some study participants.
Lastly, this piece of work also showed that there is a gaping hole across Greater Manchester in terms of education and the provision of support for those who might require it – be they parents, adult victims or children.
- Agencies and charities across Greater Manchester should engage in widespread community education programmes that will help to raise awareness of the law on FGM, the consequences of offending and most importantly, educate different communities about different types of FGM and the consequences of performing these, under UK law. However, we need to address FGM in a way that does not attack people’s culture but rather work with them to become stakeholders in the change needed to fight FGM through effective community education and engagement.
- More specifically, we call for better education and awareness raising about Type Four FGM Labia Elongation – especially for the benefit of practitioners like social workers, health workers, law enforcement officers and communities themselves and to protect children at risk in practising communities.
- Professionals and their agencies working with victims of FGM or those at risk also need to develop better cultural awareness of the range of FGM practising communities on many levels. They should work with organisations like AFRUCA who have a proven track record of successfully working within African communities to understand cultural practices that may cause harm to children.
- Separate FGM awareness sessions should be conducted to reach out to the men in practising communities. If we can change the male mind-set it will contribute significantly to the way FGM is perceived.
- More robust work needs to be done with young people both males and females through projects like AFRUCA’s Anti FGM champions’ project. The number of at-risk children can be reduced by raising awareness among younger people, for example in schools. Schools need to be better equipped to educate children from practising communities thereby enhancing protection for them. Engaging young people will help to promote intergenerational dialogue and debate about the impacts of FGM and also raise awareness of the support for children at risk.
- In relation to the role of “cutters” in conducting FGM procedures, we call for more joint efforts between law enforcement agencies and communities in strengthening modes of identification of perpetrators of FGM.
- In conducting the above, emphasis needs to be placed on the role of community leaders to influence community members and help to create change in this regard.
- There needs to be services established across Greater Manchester to provide support for victims and potential victims of FGM including children and adult victims.
- Efforts by immigration agencies to safeguard children from FGM at points of departure must be broad-based and not just focus on a few identified communities.
- FGM in all its forms is of concern to us at AFRUCA and to child safeguarding and welfare professionals. We have developed an action plan to begin to address some of the findings from this research with agencies and communities across Greater Manchester. This includes commencement of targeted community education programmes and holding briefing sessions with a range of agencies to discuss how to address the findings in the report. The work of our newly recruited Anti-FGM Youth Champions will be part of AFRUCA’s efforts to address the issue of FGM across Greater Manchester.
Click here to read the full report: “Voices of the Community: Exploring Female Genital Mutilation Among African Communities in Greater Manchester
Read more about our work on FGM
AFRUCA – Africans Unite Against Child Abuse