*We are grateful to The Women’s Support Project for their contribution to this blog
In the last decade there has been wider recognition of the impact that female genital mutilation (also known as FGM, ‘initiation’, ‘circumcision’, ‘rites of passage’, or ‘cutting’, among other names) can have on girls and women, and how common it is.
But what do we know about FGM in Scotland? In this blog we explore some facts about FGM, key aspects of the law, and the work needed to tackle this form of abuse.
The hidden nature of FGM makes it particularly challenging to build a true picture of how often it happens in Europe, and in Scotland in particular.
The only research looking at the Scottish context was published in 2014 by the Scottish Refugee Council. The report estimated that more than 30,000 people in Scotland come from countries known to practice FGM, and these communities are mainly settled in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee. However, it’s important to know that only some women and girls in these communities will be at risk.
is a painful procedure that involves cutting or altering the external female
genitalia. Women and girls are forced to undergo this harmful procedure which can
have long-lasting consequences for their physical and mental wellbeing.
FGM violates women and girls’ human rights because it denies them the right to be healthy, to have physical integrity and autonomy over their bodies, and to live free from abuse.
Like all other forms of violence against women, FGM is practiced because of deep-rooted systemic gender inequalities that discriminate against women and girls, and it ultimately denies them the possibility of making decisions about their own bodies. And because it is frequently done to girls, it is also a form of child abuse.
FGM has been a crime in Scotland since 1985. Even though the law has existed for nearly 34 years, no one has been prosecuted in this country. This shows that the law is only one tool in what needs to be a wider strategy to tackle this form of abuse.
More recently, in 2020 the Scottish Government passed a new legislation which, among other changes, has increased the protections for women and girls at risk of FGM and those who have already been affected by this procedure.
These orders give courts the power to, for example, request that the woman or girl is taken to a safe place; to ensure she is protected from threats, harassment and further abuse; and to prevent them from being taken abroad for this procedure (more on this on the next point).
Protection orders can be requested from the court by a woman or girl who is at risk of FGM or has already experienced it, local authorities, the Lord Advocate, the police, and other individuals that have the permission from the court.
In 2015 Scotland made it illegal for UK citizens and residents to take girls or women abroad to carry out FGM. And with the introduction of FGM Protection Orders, the courts now have additional powers to prevent these trips from happening.
For example, a court could take away the victim’s passport so she is not forced to travel for the procedure; and they can even bring her back to the UK if she’s already abroad.
While the law has helped to send a clear message that FGM is not tolerated in Scotland and that it is a form of abuse against women and girls, criminalisation alone will not eradicate this issue.
Collaboration is key to help identify, protect and more importantly, prevent FGM. Thus organisations, agencies in charge of protecting children and the society at large must work together.Involvement from the community is also crucial here in order to change attitudes and prevent FGM from happening.
The importance of community work cannot be underestimated when it comes to addressing abusive behaviours. In fact, community-led initiatives have been found to increase support for campaigns to end FGM.
In Scotland, the FGM Aware project led by the Women’s Support Project works closely with women affected, communities and organisations to increase awareness of FGM and improve the ways in which health care professionals, schools, police and other agencies respond to this form of abuse.
Most of the policy and prevention work around FGM has focused on protecting girls at risk. However, there are women in Scotland who are living with the consequences of FGM.
Organisations like the Women’s Support Project believe there needs to be more emphasis on the needs of women after experiencing FGM, and particularly the response they get from health services.
Misunderstandings about why FGM happens or who it happens to, paired with unhelpful stereotypes of victims and their communities can make it harder for women affected by FGM to come forward and, consequently, to seek support.
FGM can have severe consequences for the person’s health, including life-threatening infections, extremely painful periods, higher risk of complications during childbirth, PTSD, depression, among others. So it is critical that women and girls who feel at risk of FGM or have gone through the procedure feel able to disclose the abuse, and that they are believed and supported when they choose to do so.
Whether you have been affected by female genital mutilation or you are worried that you might be forced to undergo the procedure, you can get support in Scotland.
We understand it can feel difficult to open up about FGM. The organisations below will support you without judgment or pressure to share any details about what happened to you: