Articles on Shifting Sands
FGM facts were irrelevant in 2016
Campaigners and crusaders against FGM face a dilemma each time official data are published about the women and girls who’ve undergone the practice, were seen in the NHS and had their patient identifiable information centralised to the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) now called NHS Digital. What sensational headlines can they dredge up to draw attention to the always ongoing/worsening/barbaric/insert relevant adjective, situation in the UK? This is despite that the detail in the reports often depicts something different when examined.
Quarterly reports provide a picture of the prevalence of FGM in England but caution is always advised regarding any interpretation of the findings ‘because data completeness is often low and varies by commissioning region and submitter.’ That statement is frequently overlooked and ignored with data cited as fact.
This report got less media attention than previous ones did. Perhaps there wasn’t enough content to sensationalise about? Nevertheless, the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) tried by asking “Are we really winning the fight against FGM?’ The College’s Professional Policy Advisor is an enthusiastic activist and educator who has, like others, been awarded an MBE for her services to tackling FGM.
The NHS Executive picked up on the RCM’s comments and reported ‘midwives warned against being complacent’ about FGM.
These comments followed the trend set by the Commons Select Committee on FGM in July, having ‘consulted’ with a variety of campaigners, activists and service representatives via a Roundtable Discussion. It suggested in its September report ‘FGM: Abuse Unchecked’ that there is an ‘Ongoing failure to tackle the “national scandal” of female genital mutilation’.
This beggars belief considering that the whole country seems to be inundated with information about FGM and galvanised around the issue.
The September 2016 report (published in December) was the 6th quarterly from the HSCIC’s FGM Enhanced Dataset (FGMED) since this type of data collection began in April 2015. Between July and September 2016, 1,204 women and girls with FGM were seen in the NHS for the first time and 92% of them were seen in maternity services. Forty-five per cent were from London. Unsurprisingly, 94% were born outside the UK and 95% had undergone FGM outside it. But only 26% had a known country recorded where FGM was undertaken.
Despite the sensational headlines, this was the lowest number reported since data was first reported for FGMED in Q2 2015. The average for the intervening five quarters – until Q2 2016 was 1,500.
Interestingly, the HSCIC chose not to report this positively: ‘Since the FGMED collection began in April 2015, over 1,200 newly recorded women and girls have been identified every quarter.’ I wonder whether they are deliberately trying to emphasise the negative?
But the Royal College’s midwife was on a roll nevertheless, saying; “This latest set of data is most concerning as there appears to be more cases of FGM being identified, particularly in girls under eighteen and those born in the UK. The number of recorded cases in girls under eighteen was 39 cases. There were also 34 newly recorded cases identified in women and girls who were born in the UK. This is simply unacceptable.”
So 34 British women and girls had undergone FGM. That’s not surprising considering the number who live in Britain, particularly in London, from communities who have traditionally practiced FGM.
And back in 1998 (perhaps even later) it wasn’t unusual for girls to be taken overseas to undergo FGM, or sometimes to have it here. Campaigners have frequently shared this information publicly. I’ve even met some of these young women.
What the RCM Policy Advisor failed to mention was that more than two-thirds of the 15 cases of FGM carried out in the UK were genital piercings. That is 10 people.
Yes, it beggars belief but piercings continue to be reported as FGM. Because, according to the NHS, ‘While adult women may choose to have genital piercings, in some communities’ girls are forced to have them. The World Health Organisation currently defines all female genital piercings as a form of FGM. The data item FGM Type 4 Qualifier allows users to specify that the FGM was a piercing. Genital piercings are classed as FGM Type 4 – Piercing. (P18). Truly, the law is an ass in this instance.
Even consenting adult women cannot have genital cosmetic surgery unless there’s a medical or psychological need, according to 2003 FGM legislation, because they are considered to be children. How patronising is that? Nevertheless the Crown Prosecution Service is believed to be considering whether to prosecute surgeons, in three cases, for carrying this out.
The RCM midwife continued; “We cannot and must not become complacent when 15 cases of FGM were undertaken in the UK, it is shocking and requires immediate action, because it indicates that girls continue to be at risk of FGM – even in the UK where we have strived to put in place measures to protect them, which appear not to be robust enough.”
Complacent? Measures not robust enough? These are not words I would use in regard to FGM in Britain today.
For almost five years FGM has been paid unprecedented attention based on the (false) assumption that there is an epidemic here. This is accompanied by low-horizon assumptions which ignore the real possibility of cultural change after migration, that every woman who has undergone it will automatically have her daughter cut – until she convinces professionals otherwise. Summits and conferences have been held, more laws introduced, professionals act like police, confidential patient identifiable data is centralised etc. Women are constantly being questioned, men are made to feel they are to blame, school children get fed propaganda while communities feel under siege and stigmatised. Yet little credit is given for the efforts they have made, quietly, unobtrusively and independently, to reduce or end the practice altogether.
I wrote in March ‘The FGM moral crusade is anti-humanist.’ Unfortunately the situation has not improved and that’s largely due to the activism that informs the ongoing, over-the-top, official response to the issue here.
About the Author - Bríd Hehir
Bríd is a retired health professional. She started her career as a nurse and midwife in Africa where she worked for almost four years. She encountered FGM/C in Ethiopia. She then moved to London where she worked in the National Health Service as a midwife, community nurse, health visitor, reproductive and sexual health nurse and manager over a period of 30 years. She did not encounter FGM/C during that time despite working with immigrant communities who are reported to practice it still. She is puzzled by the current reported prevalence of the practice, the official response and associated activism. And is worried that they might cause more harm than good.