Articles on Shifting Sands
£375,000 being wasted on FGM awareness raising
I wish the Communities Secretary, Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP had objectively reviewed current data, policy, laws and spending in regard to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) before announcing plans to allocate another £375,000 to councils nationally to raise awareness of the practice. They will be expected to use the money to promote online FGM resources, highlighting support services and disseminating the multi-agency guidelines on the practice. More than fifty per cent of this money will be allocated to London boroughs.
There has been a glut of FGM policy and legislative developments over the years to which a variety of stakeholders have contributed. Many of them were campaigners, professionals and specialist with a vested interest in raising awareness about the practice. In Bristol e.g. the Safeguarding Children’s Board comprising Social Care, Avon and Somerset police and the NHS was instrumental in contributing to the development of what became the Serious Crime Act 2015.
But how well do end products like this accurately reflect objective input? Much of what has been produced has been poorly formulated – even unnecessary. The recent landmark University of Bristol report illustrates what happens when these developments are implemented in practice.
There, zealous professionals in their determined search for FGM, informed by The Bristol Model, resulted in Bristol Somalis being victimised, experiencing trauma and a sense of disempowerment at their hands. Yet the Communities Secretary still wants the money used ‘to help build the capacity of FGM-focussed outreach workers to help engage constructively with communities on the practice of FGM and the harm it causes.’ Tell that to those Bristol Somalis.
I would also expect the Ministry would have used accurate and current data when developing the funding rationale. For example ‘The government has determined the 35 areas based on reports of FGM incidents. This data is supported by a study undertaken and published by City University’.
The City University study referred to was co-authored by Prof. Alison Macfarlane in 2015. But she clarified recently and again when writing to the cross-party committee discussing an amendment to the Children Act 1989, that the data does not support suppositions being made by MP’s:
‘The Department of Health’s statistics, produced by NHS Digital, were misquoted in support of statements that FGM is still widespread. While it is correct that ‘in 2016-17, the NHS reported 9,179 cases of FGM, of which 5,391 were newly recorded’, ‘newly recorded’ simply means that the FGM was recorded in the FGM dataset for the first time, not that the FGM was recently undertaken. The majority of women may have undergone FGM many years earlier in their country of origin. Only four per cent of these women and girls for whom trusts reported a country of birth were born in the UK and only four per cent of these reported having FGM undertaken in the UK, with 89 per cent of them reporting that the FGM was a vaginal piercing. So these data do not show that FGM is widespread in England or that the practise is increasing.’
This funding is therefore promised based on the misleading use of FGM statistics.
Senior clinicians at the UK’s only FGM clinic for under 18’s at University College Hospital London concur. They recently wrote in the British Medical Journal: ‘Some of the current effort and funding could be diverted to begin healing relations with individuals, families, and communities who have abandoned the practice, and to support women and girls in the UK who have already been cut. The current response to FGM is disproportionate relative to other types of child abuse. It diverts professional time and energy from child maltreatment -something that affects all social groups but especially the socially and economically disadvantaged and is increasingly recognised as a major public health problem with serious long term physical and psychological outcomes.’
It is of paramount importance that the government is seen to be truthful with the public when allocating funding and that it is spending our money wisely. But public resources used on FGM preventive work help exaggerate the scale of the problem as well as the funding needed to address it through poorly thought-through interventions.
There is a need also for government to consider the credentials of individuals and organisations being consulted in regard to the development of new policies, particularly in light of previous questionable appointments to certain roles e.g. Comfort Momoh, Camilla Batmanghelidjh and Emma Harrison. Well meaning but badly advised politicians can do more harm than good.
It’s time to look objectively at the full FGM agenda and in particular how and what is being funded. This includes the National FGM Centre established in 2015 and which has received £1.6 million since 2017. Let’s hope the University of Bedfordshire will include value for money among the criteria it is using as it evaluates the Centre.
Author: Khadija Hussein, Mother and Public Sector worker.
Postscript: Examples of how the money is being allocated and spent:
Bolton: Bolton Council awarded £10,000 to tackle FGM
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