Today at the International Confederation of Midwives Congress in Prague, I had the great opportunity to attend a session featuring inspirational leaders who are actively combating female genital mutilation (FGM).
Comfort Momoh, MBE, Middlesex University, moderated the session and opened by informing the audience of what female genital mutilation is.
FGM is the partial or total removal of female genitalia and is a violation of human rights.
FGM is practiced in 28-30 countries in Africa, but also in other countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and parts of Iraq. FGM is also a phenomenon present in Europe and North America. Comfort Momoh explained that in the United Kingdom, it is estimated that about 66 thousand women have undergone FGM and that 22 thousand girls under the age of 15 are at risk for FGM.
It was quick
It was quick, but in some ways I resent this.
This thing that ruined my life happend in just a few painful moments.
It angers me. It angers me that my mother chose to take me to the cutter.
It angers me that she used a dirty blade.
It angers me that my sister died in the circumcicer’s home.
It angers me that nobody thinks it was wrong.
It angers me that cutters are allowed to mutilate young girls.
FGM is against my human right.
This poem was written by a Sudanese woman and shared by Joy Clarke, FGM Lead Specialist Midwife at Whittington Hospital, United Kingdom. FGM is violence. It is a violation of women’s and girls’ human rights, and FGM stays with you for the rest of your life.
“I don’t remember when it was done, but my teens were really hard! My period gave me a lot of pain. Now I’m pregnant and I’ve been informed that there will be problems during childbirth, so I made a decision to have an operation. Now I know I will have a safe birth.”
– voice of a young woman shared by Joy Clarke
Women who have been subjected to FGM suffer from pain when urinating, pain during menstruation, complications during pregnancy and childbirth, as well as, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other psychological effects.
Leyla Hussein, FGM Activst and Co-Founder of Daughters of Eve & Dahlia’s Project, shared her experience as a FGM survivor, as a psycho-therapist and as an activist. “When we speak about FGM we think about physical scars, but forget the psychological aspect. Therapy gives women a safe space to explore their options.”
“I want to keep it real with you. Do not use the words culture or relition when talking about FGM. FGM is violence against women and child abuse. We need to break down patriarchal structures.” Leyla Hussein continued to speak about the linkages between FGM and other forms of violence against women, such as domestic violence and sexual assault.
“When someone cuts off your flesh, a punch is not going to be a big deal.”
– a woman subjected to FGM about domestic violence.
“Finally the world is waking up!” said Jane Ellison, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Health UK, in her video message. She spoke about the work that is being undertaken in the UK, where health professionals are coming together to protect girls and are advocating for action to be taken by policy-makers. “We must work together to make progress and we must keep working at it. We don’t want our girls to be cut or mutilated.”
What midwives can do!
Several of the speakers were midwives themselves, and they highlighted the important role that midwives have in leading the way to combating FGM. They also showed the instrumental role that midwives have played to lead the campaign to end FGM in the UK and elsewhere.
Leyla Hussein underscored the importance of midwives, as they are often the first health professionals to examine them. “FGM is one of the worst forms of violence a woman and child can experience. Midwives need to give these girls safe spaces!”
Midwives have an essential role in meeting women and providing non-judgemental care. They also have the possibilities to identify girls at risk and provide essential education to prevent FGM. Joy Clarke added her point of view on what midwives can do to strengthen women’s rights.
Lindsey Ahmet, Midwife and Senior Lecturer at Middlesex University, spoke about the midwifery curriculum in the UK, where FGM is an increasingly hot topic, yet still not a mandatory field for students. She said that midwifery students need the appropriate support to understand and deal with the topic of FGM, as some may be cut themselves. Ahmet also pressed for the importance of bridging the gap between social work, law and other fields to effectively combat FGM.
How we can build bridges!
Jane Ellison encouraged all of us to be a part of building bridges to safeguard our children and dispell myths related to FGM. We can all take action to break the silence!
Here are three things you can do:
- Get informed! Learn more about FGM at WHO, ICM, UNFPA and Equality Now. Find out if any community groups are in place in your area and join it.
- Inform others. Talk about it with colleagues and friends, and join the online advocacy efforts using #EndFGM.
- Join the End FGM/C Social Change Campaign and encourage the leaders of your country to make investments to end female genital mutilation!