More than 125 million girls and woman alive today have been cut in the 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is concentrated. Furthermore, due to migration, a shocking number of cases of FGM are coming to light in other parts of the world as well, including Britain. Up to 500,000 girls and women living in the European Union are affected or threatened by FGM and 75,000 of them live in Great Britain.
FGM is a destructive operation, during which the female genitals are partly or entirely removed or injured with the goals of inhibiting a woman’s sexual feelings. Most often the mutilation is performed before puberty, often on girls between the age of four and eight, but recently it is increasingly performed on nurslings who are only a couple of days, weeks or months old.
The laws which made FGM illegal were introduced in France and England at about the same time, in the mid-1980s.
But whereas some 100 parents and practitioners of FGM have been convicted in France, there has never been a single prosecution in the UK.
Isabelle Gillette-Faye, a seasoned campaigner against FGM has said:
"In England, you are very respectful of your immigrants.It is very different in France. They have to integrate and they have to obey our laws."
In France, mothers and babies attend specialist clinics up until the age of six. The genitalia of baby girls are routinely examined for signs of mutilation.
Dr Amellou, who works in a clinic in a Paris suburb told a BBC Newsnight that after the age of six, responsibility is handed over to school medical teams.
They continue to inspect girls, especially those coming from those high-risk ethnic groups.
Perhaps you are wondering why we are highlighting this as a Union issue but we are not alone. Unite has said that the government should employ more school nurses if the campaign against female genital mutilation (FGM) is to be successful, Unite. The union says school nurses would be in an excellent position to assess FGM issues and give practical assistance to pupils, but claims there are not enough of them, calling for a recruitment drive and also greater training.
Unite lead professional officer Obi Amadi said:
“After years of campaigning, the issue of FGM and the lasting harm it does to young girls and women in later life has jumped to the top of the political agenda, which we warmly welcome. However, this is a complex area with layers of cultural sensitivities which pose challenges to health professionals, including health visitors and school nurses. School nurses need to be at the forefront of this campaign, but there are not enough of them. Latest workforce statistics show only 1,169 full time qualified school nurses in England. But there are more than 4,000 secondary schools in the UK, so we need 3,000 more school nurses in the first phase, with the eventual goal of 6,000 more. “FGM is a key opportunity for teachers, with school nurse support, to educate and support children. The Department for Education has expressed that it wants to work with health and teaching unions on this. We must improve knowledge of all professionals working with children so that cultural understanding – or lack of – is not an issue. For those who have already been affected by FGM, we need to ensure they have access to the right specialist services to support them.”
Patrick Harrington, General Secretary of Solidarity commented:
“If we are to prevent FGM and support victims clearly greater resources are needed. Unite are right to highlight this as a Union issue and we in Solidarity support their stance one hundred per cent. This issue also highlights how short-term and poorly thought out costs savings mean that prevention strategies can be underfunded. This doesn’t just affect the issue of FGM but also drug and alcohol problems and obesity amongst young people. In the long-term cutting or underfunding prevention strategies is a false economy which will cost our society dear.