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06 February 2014

Faith groups urged to tackle the scourge of FGM

Faith groups urged to tackle the scourge of FGM

Female genital mutilation (FGM,or female circumcision) is a heartbreaking problem in countries worldwide.

The practice, which involves the cutting of female genitalia for non-medical reasons, is carried out on around three million girls each year before the age of 10. That's the equivalent of one every 10 seconds, putting them at serious health risks including bleeding, infection, infertility and other complications and trauma.

FGM is a pre-Christian and pre-Islamic cultural practice, most common in African communities.

To coincide with the UN'sinternational day of zero tolerance on female genital mutilation today, Alliance member World Vision has released a report warning that the UK is not making enough progress to eliminate it.

The statistics about the prevalence of FGM among the diaspora in the UK are alarming, with at least 66,000 girls and women in the UK believed to be victims.

Although FGM is illegal here, there has never been a case brought to court.

The report, Tackling FGM in the UK: Lessons from Africa, looks to some success in poorer nations, such as Ethiopia and Niger, as examples of how the issue needs to be addressed here.

It is reported that in Niger, the prevalence of FGM has halved in less than a decade after the authorities enlisted the support of religious and community leaders to challenge beliefs in favour of the practice. The report also highlights Ethiopia, where there are now prosecutions despite challenging constraints on resources, such as a lack of transport for police to use when trying to collect evidence.

World Vision's researchers believe the UK's focus on changing the legal system, though important, demonstrates a lack of understanding of the root of the problem, which they say are social and cultural attitudes.

"Since FGM is driven by complex social norms as opposed to lack of knowledge, it cannot be tackled by education alone. It requires more meaningful engagement with the beliefs, attitudes and norms of communities where FGM takes place," the report claims.

28toomany is another organisation trying to raise awareness and tackle the root causes, myths and stigma of this horrific cultural practice.

"Cultural attitudes are very ingrained and changing them is a huge undertaking," said its director Ann-Marie Wilson.

Ann-Marie, a campaigner against FGM came across the practice in Sudan, West Darfur where she met a girl of 11 with her baby as a result of rape, who had been cut, like many other girls, at just five years old. Since then Ann-Marie has left her comfortable life running her successful business, has retrained and been dedicating her life to standing up to these practices.

"We are focusing initially on the 28 countries in Africa where the cultural practice happens most commonly but it needs to be eradicated globally. It also happens in Indonesia, Pakistan but principally it is Africa and that's the biggest group," she said.

"I decided I wanted to make an impact, get to the root cause of FGM and help change the beliefs of the people and expose the myths surrounding it. The people themselves can be empowered to speak up in a culturally relevant way. "

World Vision also confirmed that they believe that faith and community leaders, teachers and parents are best placed to challenge the myths, once they are equipped: "People who contest the practices within communities can be the most powerful agents of change."

The Department of Health says from April, all NHS hospitals will be able to record if a patient has undergone FGM or if there is a family history of this. The government says this is the first stage of a wider scheme to improve the way the NHS will "respond to, follow-up and support the prevention of FGM".

World Vision concludes: "This is a crucial moment to consider the lessons and best practice learned overseas in eliminating FGM."

Look out for an in-depth interview with Ann-Marie Wilson in a future edition of the Evangelical Alliance's idea magazine, available to members

(Image by World Vision)