Lewisham has residents who have undergone, or may be at risk of, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), but there was a lack of awareness, among both professionals and the public, of FGM - including definitions and where to go for support. In 2013 Lewisham launched a multi-agency campaign to address this lack of awareness.
FGM is a form of violence against women and girls (VAWG), involving the illegal procedure of totally or partially removing parts of a woman’s genitalia for non-medical reasons. Awareness of FGM, including definitions and where to go for support, was lacking among professionals and members of the public.
Lewisham had no training opportunities for safeguarding staff, or local awareness campaigns for members of the public. In summer 2013 an awareness campaign with an action plan was therefore launched, led and delivered by statutory and non-statutory multi agency professionals. As a result of the successful awareness campaign, FGM is now a VAWG priority for the Safer Lewisham Partnership.
Lewisham, with a large migrant community from Africa, has residents who have undergone or may be at risk of FGM; however the number of residents affected is not known. There are a variety of sources of data and methods for estimating the prevalence of FGM, all have limitations and only some are feasible or likely to be reliable in Lewisham. A recent report by Trust for London estimates prevalence in Lewisham to be 2.5 per cent of the female population, which is higher than the national prevalence estimates.
Information about FGM on the council website was poor and professionals reported a lack of understanding on the issue. It was therefore agreed that an awareness campaign with an action plan needed to be launched, led and delivered by statutory and non-statutory multi agency professionals in Lewisham. Terms of reference were established and members included the Midwifery service, Children’s Health Safeguarding, Children Social Care, Lewisham Communications Unit and specialist FGM support services.
Lewisham established a detailed and comprehensive multi-agency FGM Awareness Action Plan to increase professional and public awareness of the definitions of FGM, legislation and how to access support.
A sub group of the VAWG Forum was established by the Crime Reduction Service to bring together key statutory and non-statutory partners to raise awareness. At the time, all agencies recognised the significance of the issue in the borough. The fact that an awareness campaign on FGM had never previously been delivered meant there was commitment and enthusiasm throughout the process. Membership ranged from the police, primary health care services, children social care, to local community groups and even local housing providers. Monthly meetings were scheduled and agreed for six consecutive months to ensure delivery of the action plan, and that target audiences, such as high prevalence community groups in the Deptford ward1 were covered. Examples of actions include
- Inclusion of FGM information in quarterly LSCB newsletters
- FGM briefing sessions in local colleges and universities
- FGM information on the council website
Although legislation on FGM had been in place since 2003, few professionals or community groups were aware of it. A task and finish sub-group chaired by the Lewisham VAWG Lead was established to oversee the implementation of the awareness action plan with statutory and non-statutory partners ranging from Hospital reps to local church groups, and the council’s communications department.
To ensure community members and residents were engaged, FGM briefing sessions were held in public areas such as borough libraries, weekend youth centres and universities. School-aged girls (aged 13-16) were also trained as FGM Youth Champions in the most prevalent areas in Lewisham, such as Deptford and New Cross wards.
An FGM Faith Leaders Conference organised for the International Day of Zero Tolerance to End FGM was held on 5th February 2015, drawing together community leaders and faith-based organisations as keynote speakers, which was the first of its kind in Lewisham. Over 85 people attended (over-subscribed) with speakers from both the Christian and Muslim faiths, as well as specialist clinicians. As a result, a key event highlighting FGM awareness will now be held every year on the International Day of Zero Tolerance to End FGM.
Further to this, a Council Motion by Cllr Joan Reid called on Lewisham Council to prioritise its work towards ending FGM by exercising its statutory duty to safeguard children and protect women and girls. As a result, FGM is now a VAWG priority in Lewisham, along with domestic violence, and rape and sexual abuse. A dedicated FGM Champions session in which Lewisham and Southwark Councillors were trained to be local FGM Champions was held on International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM Day on 6 February 2016.
The FGM Awareness Action Plan has now been completed, with every action on the plan successfully taken forward. Due to the widely publicised campaign to raise awareness of FGM, more than 150 people – ranging from sessions in borough libraries to the faith leaders conference – signed the Home Office pledge to end FGM in Lewisham. This pledge has now been sent to the Home Office.
As a result of the mandatory duty to report known cases of FGM, from February 2016 there will be an annual workshop training safeguarding professionals on the signs to look out for when working with young girls. Topics will include mandatory reporting expectations, as well as how to manage sensitive disclosures.
Due to the increase in awareness on FGM, the local specialist FGM service has seen an increase in their funding for FGM counselling for 2015/2016 in order to support an additional 40 women a year.
VAWG Programme Manager
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