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Voices of the Community: Exploring Female Genital Mutilation in the African Community across Greater Manchester

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 and 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 strong 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.