Scottish national action plan needed on FGM

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First major piece of research on female genital mutilation (FGM) in Scotland launched by Scottish Refugee Council

The first major piece of research on female genital mutilation (FGM) in Scotland is being launched today by Scottish Refugee Council with Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice and Communities Alex Neil. The report has identified an urgent need for a strategic, multi-agency approach to supporting and protecting communities affected by the practice.

READ THE FULL REPORT: Tackling FGM in Scotland: A Scottish Model of Intervention (6MB)

Female genital mutilation is internationally recognised as a violation of the fundamental rights of women and girls. Sometimes also referred to as ‘female genital cutting’ or ‘female circumcision’, in reality the term ‘FGM’ encompasses a range of harmful practices described and understood differently in different communities across the world.

The scoping study, carried out by Scottish Refugee Council with the support of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, identifies populations across Scotland potentially affected by female genital mutilation and sets out a number of recommendations for prevention and response interventions.

The key findings are the need for:

  • A strategic framework;
  • National guidance;
  • A hub and spoke service; and
  • Community participation

Work to prevent and respond to FGM in Scotland cuts across a range of policy areas, including health, criminal justice, asylum, and child protection.

Report co-author and Women’s Policy Officer at Scottish Refugee Council Nina Murray said: “In order to effectively tackle FGM, Scotland needs a strong strategic framework, which incorporates policy, legislation and engagement with professionals and communities.

“This should encompass prevention, protection and the provision of services, and be outlined in a national action plan that sits within the framework of Equally Safe, Scotland’s new strategy for preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls. Any action plan must be informed by communities affected by FGM and should be cross-cutting and developed in partnership with all key stakeholders.

“Any work to tackle or understand FGM must recognise that it is a form of gender-based violence, and that it is closely linked to other forms of violence against women and girls, most notably forced marriage. A gendered approach to tackling and responding to FGM will support affected communities to identify and address the root causes of the practice.”

Scottish Refugee Council’s research also identifies a lack of clear national guidance currently for frontline professionals, including GPs, midwives, teachers and children’s services. The report calls for the establishment of a specialist, multi-disciplinary ‘hub and spoke’ FGM service in Scotland, incorporating maternity services, obstetrics and gynaecology, psychological and psychosexual services, with links to social work and the police. This central hub would then link to services across Scotland’s regions where potentially affected communities have been identified.

The report stresses the need for participation from communities affected by FGM at the earliest stages of any action plan’s development, and investment in community development to support behaviour change from within affected communities. Our research analysed Scotland’s recent census data on country of birth, which shows the country’s population becoming increasingly diverse, with growth in communities potentially affected by FGM.

The research also identifies a clear need to:

  • Develop a network of named professionals with expertise on FGM in every local authority area and ensure clear referral pathways are in place;
  • Include FGM in all professional training on child protection and safeguarding, as well as foundation training for midwives, GPs, social workers and other frontline professionals;
  • Support key community figures and emerging community leaders to be advocates for sustainable and long-term behaviour change;
  • Ensure that all women and girls living in Scotland are covered by legislation on FGM, irrespective of immigration status; and
  • Ensure that asylum claims involving disclosure of FGM are monitored and regularly audited by the Home Office

Scottish Refugee Council’s research was funded by the Scottish Government and Rosa – the UK Fund for Women and Girls.