FGM survivor calls for mothers to be educated

Speaking to healthcare professionals in London today, female genital mutilation survivor Fatuma Farah said mothers need to be educated about FGM so that their children are not subjected to the procedure

A survivor of female genital mutilation says mothers should be educated about the psychological and physical harm caused by the procedure in a bid to ‘break the cycle of abuse’.

Speaking at a conference in London today, Fatuma Farah urged health professionals to encourage women who have experienced female genital mutilation (FGM) to put an end to the abuse by having conversations with women so that they decide to save their own daughters from undergoing the practice.

Ms Farah, who is an activist and psychotherapist, said: ‘British health professionals can do a lot to stop the practice, especially psychologists. I want to say to them that this is your place to help, to have these conversations with women whose daughters are at risk. They would intervene if it was any other form of abuse, but because FGM seems “foreign” and cultural I find that they can walk on eggshells and be unsure how to approach the subject.’

Organised by the British Psychological Society’s Faculty for HIV and Sexual Health, which comprises sexual health experts from Barts Health NHS Trust, the conference is being attended by 80 clinicians from across the UK to discuss how best to support women and girls who have experienced FGM. They are also discussing how to enable women who have undergone FGM to access physical and mental healthcare support.

Ms Farah was taken by her mother to undergo FGM aged five in her native Somalia. While too young to recall much of the procedure, she remembers the pain that endured afterwards, and watching her younger sister being taken away years later for the same procedure.

She said that as a result of FGM she experiences pain when menstruating but says the procedure has done more damage to her mentally, adding that ‘as a woman I felt different, unnatural and afraid of having sex’.

She added: ‘The mental trauma of FGM led me to a successful career in psychotherapy and I now realise that my mother simply didn’t know any better. The key to end this abuse is education, to go to mothers to say don’t make your daughters feel the same pain. The mother is a victim herself and her mother before her and so on. Arresting and scaring people is good, but you need to appeal to their hearts and speak to their morals or they’ll just be afraid of the law, and that isn’t enough. We need to create change.’

It is estimated that more than 66,000 girls and women living in Britain have experienced FGM, and more than 20,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk in the UK each year.

Barts Health NHS Trust consultant clinical psychologist Amanda O’Donovan, who is chairing the conference, said: ‘NHS clinicians in hospitals and the community are seeing more women presenting with issues relating to FGM and ending the practice is a government and UN priority. Many clinicians have expressed the need for training and support, such as how best to ask women about FGM and support those who have experienced it.’

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