Eliminating FGM in the UK: The Way Forward

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Efua Dorkenoo, OBE & Jane Ellison MP in UK House of Commons.

“Professionals are crying out for clear cut guidance on referral pathways on early identification of girls potentially at risk and prevention; and protocols for documenting and sharing information on FGM between health, children's social care, education and the police.

There is no time to waste on platitudes as thousands of girls living in England and Wales are having their life blighted by this damaging practice.” --Efua Dorkenoo, Senior FGM Advisor, Equality Now

According to recent provisional estimates, approximately 137,000 women and girls are living with the consequences of female genital mutilation (FGM) in England and Wales. In addition, 60,000 English and Welsh girls were born to mothers who have undergone FGM. Though FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985, it wasn’t until 2014 that the crime was first prosecuted.

Equality Now is a key player in developing a coordinated ‘joined-up’ approach, which breaks down the barriers relating to both prevention and prosecution for the crime of FGM. Supported by the December 2012 UN Global Ban on FGM, Equality Now is committed to the implementation of systems to comprehensively educate parents, law enforcement professionals, medical professionals, educators, social workers and anyone in regular contact with children, on their obligations to safeguard children from this severe form of violence.

Successes of the ‘Joined-Up’ Approach to Prevention and Prosecution of FGM in the UK

  • In March 2014, nearly 30 years after FGM was criminalized in the UK, the Crown Prosecution Service announced the first ever prosecutions of the crime under the Female Genital Mutilation Act.  Representing a watershed moment in the fight to end FGM in the UK, the prosecutions sent out a strong message that violations of the law will not be tolerated.
  • The Royal College of Midwives, Royal College of Nursing and Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists worked with Equality Now and UNITE the union on a groundbreaking report, ‘Tackling FGM in the UK: Intercollegiate recommendations for identifying, recording and reporting’, which makes nine key recommendations relating to information gathering, sharing and training of front-line professionals to ensure that multi-agency systems are put in place to prevent FGM and to comprehensively protect girls at risk from even before they are born.
  • Along with Daughters of Eve, Equality Now successfully called on the Home Office to take leadership on FGM in the UK and to implement a National Strategy and Action Plan to effectively deal with this issue. The petition was officially launched on 6 November 2013 as part of a Channel 4 documentary called ‘The Cruel Cut’.
  • Under guidance from Equality Now and other groups, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) launched an FGM helpline in June 2013.  Over a three month period, there were 102 calls relating to women and girls at risk of FGM – 38 of which were referred to the police for further investigation.
  • Equality Now has worked alongside the Evening Standard newspaper and a range of other high-profile media outlets to ensure that FGM is mainstreamed in the UK. This culminated in a front-page article on 6 September 2013 which showed that the true scale of FGM in London is much higher than data shows and a front-page article in The Guardian on why the UK must act to half mutilation of girls.
  • The London Metropolitan Police has worked closely with Equality Now and other strategic partners to break down the barriers to prosecution for FGM crime in the UK.
  • In early 2012, Equality Now organised a research methodological workshop, which highlighted the gaps in prevention and prosecution of FGM. Leading on from this, with funding from Trust for London and the UK Home Office, an updated prevalence study of FGM in England and Wales is currently in production, with an envisaged release date of  October 2014. An interim report was released July 2014, accessible here.
  • Equality Now was a key partner in the development of a ‘Health Passport’ launched in late 2012 by the Home Office. This document outlines UK laws on FGM and is designed to either fit into the back of a girl’s passport or to be carried by parents who want to protect their daughter from extended family members.
  • In late 2012, the UK Director of Public Prosecutions (DDP), Keir Starmer QC, published an Action Plan on tackling FGM in the UK. Equality Now is one of only two non-governmental organisations which were asked to be part of to the DPP’s Steering Group on FGM Law in the UK.

Raising Awareness of FGM in the UK
Equality Now is a source of information on FGM for various groups. It provided key analysis for the UK section of a report which seeks to map both the current situation and recent trends of the prevalence of FGM in the EU. It also contributed to the Trust Law Special Coverage on FGM, the Department for International Development’s Special Initiative on FGM and the UK-wide Special Community Initiative on FGM, which operates at a grassroots level and which was established and funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Trust for London and Rosa, the UK’s Women’s Fund.

Equality Now holds consultative status with the United Nations ECOSOC and brings over 20 years of expertise from working on this issue at a global level. To take action on our current campaigns, please click here.