Over the last two years, Northamptonshire County Council have been supporting meetings of local community activists and advocates on FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) and statutory sector partners. This was initiated there was the establishment of a sub group of the Northamptonshire Local Children’s Safeguarding Board (NLCSB) focussed on FGM. The sub-group met bi-monthly and brought together people from local communities and senior officers from the statutory sector to discuss, policy, practice and promotion strategies to eliminate FGM. The coalition in the group grew and developed as individuals and as organisations. The group constituted as Northamptonshire FGM Community Association, elected officers, applied for funding and managed to pull together a number of successful projects.
Fast forward to 2018 and it is clear that there is no longer any appetite to meet (from the NLCSB) to meet with communities. First the subgroup was down graded and next it seems to have disappeared, all with no communication with the communities that in the past had been engaged with. Over the course of time that the subgroup operated community representatives have come together, shared training materials, supported Northamptonshire police in the development of a media awareness raising campaign, met with lead officers from the Serenity Sexual Assault Referral unit to develop more supportive pathways for women and girls who are suspected victims of FGM and completed a report on the mandatory reporting levels for different health agencies in the County. All of this took place without funding from any statutory agency. It was as normal BAME and BAME women’s organisations making something happen, out of nothing. The challenge of austerity in Black Communities often affected the hardest.
Over the period the group has been meeting there has been a lot more discussion about human rights and for the first time in some while, the vocalising of the negative impact that the focus on sanctions as the primary route to the elimination of FGM has on communities. The facts are that although FGM has been unlawful and had specific legislation to address it since 2003, there has been little attention by government to eliminate the problem apart from looking for punitive options. If we look at other parts of the world the attempts to eradicate FGM have been about working with communities. There have been some really innovative programmes involving women, men, children, sport, art and much, much more. Generally the way to achieve change is by working with communities rather that policing them in a manner that does not bring them on side.
This is likely to be exacerbated with the increasing trend within white western communities in the US, UK, Australia and New Zealand to have Female Genital Cosmetic Surgery. Although this often falls into the definition of FGM is rarely treated as such by health professionals, educators or police. However this clearly provides comparators for BAME communities to identify discrimination and actions that breach private and family life and other human rights.
Generally, the more successful programs that work to eliminate FGM support and empower women to find their voices and often have little directly to do with FGM. In an environment where the people with power influence and resources have stopped talking it is unlikely to be happening soon.