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Voices of the Community: Exploring Type IV (Labia Elongation) Female Genital Mutilation in the African Community across Greater Manchester

This is the second in the series of AFRUCA’s “Voices of The Community” community research projects, undertaken between January and September 2016. The research is an outcome of the recommendations of the previous research which showed a need for better education and awareness raising of Type IV FGM - especially for the benefit of practitioners like social workers, health workers, law enforcement officers and communities, to protect children.

This study focused on attitudes towards Type IV FGM specifically looking at the practice of Labia Elongation. It involved focus groups from five different African communities with participants from Malawi, Zimbabwe, Congo, Rwanda and Uganda and 5 individual interviews with community leaders.

Key Findings

- Participants acknowledged this practice as a cherished cultural norm that has been around for generations and did not perceive it to be mutilation nor did they classify it as FGM. They indicated that FGM involved cutting of the female sexual organs and was nothing comparable to the practice of Labia Elongation.

- Some participants were aware of UK Anti-FGM laws but did not see any links with the Labia Elongation practised in their communities and thought it was exclusively focused on female genital cutting.

- Some participants indicated that they felt traumatised that their privacy was invaded whilst others say that they felt that not having it done was an issue in their relationships. This ultimately impacts their confidence and self-esteem.

- There is concern that women are shunning important medical checks out of fear of being identified as having done FGM (labia elongation). This may interfere with early detection of avoidable/ preventable medical issues in women from FGM practicing communities

- According to participants, the practice of Labia Elongation is easier to perform when one is younger. However it can still be carried out in adulthood as evidenced by some of the responses from participants who willingly did it as adults.

- Although focus group participants have said labia elongation is sometimes carried out by the young people themselves due to peer pressure, it is highly unlikely that this will happen without the knowledge of parents – especially where no direct instructions have been given against its practice. Therefore parents carry the overall responsibility where children engaging in labia elongation are concerned.

- Participants mentioned that some communities get round the practice of Labia Elongation in the UK by sending children to their countries of origin to live with relatives or to boarding schools where Labia Elongation is practiced.