Jennette Arnold
London assembly member for North East London — fighting your corner at City Hall

Eradicating Female Genital Mutilation in London – the role of the London Assembly

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The practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has been illegal in the UK since 1985. Yet we know it continues. For this reason the London Assembly is undertaking a scrutiny on FGM and it is my privilege to lead it. We kick started the process with a conference at City Hall in January. We brought together frontline practitioners from across the capital, to share best practice and talk frankly about the challenges faced in eradicating FGM.

For me, the journey had started nearly 45 years ago, when I witnessed the impact of FGM for the first time. As a nurse in training I was in the middle of my obstetric placement and was about to help a mother deliver. What I saw shocked me to the core; mother had undergone what I would eventually come to know as a type 3 FGM procedure[1].

I actually fainted, but when I came round there was more to come. The lady’s husband was on the medical team and was about to operate on her, to facilitate the birth and re-stitch her afterwards; and senior staff around me assured me that there was nothing to worry about. I was invited to move to other duties for the rest of the day. Bizarrely, the only record of the event that showed any concern, was the accident report I completed, detailing the cause of my collapse. I did hear later that the lady’s husband had been persuaded not to proceed with his role but I never saw her again.

A key outcome for me from that day was the beginning of a lengthy involvement in the campaign to eradicate FGM. In that time, there has been huge progress. As suggested the process is now illegal; and from 2015 there is a mandatory requirement on health, social care and teaching professionals to report any cases they identify to the police. But, we know in London that new cases of FGM are still being discovered amongst young girls; and there are thousands of women of all ages who are survivors of the practice.

For the Assembly scrutiny, I was delighted that Hibo Wardere agreed to be an adviser to me and my team of officers. She also agreed to Chair the conference. Hibo is a Somalian born campaigner against genital mutilation. She is also a community educator and author[2]. The key aim of the conference was to provide a safe space for professionals to share best practice and talk frankly about the challenges and barriers to tackling FGM.

Key professionals from health, social care, education and policing set the scene and provided statements on their roles and responsibilities and the issues that needed to be addressed to promote better joint working.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has said that tackling FGM will be an important part of his mayoralty. His Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime, Sophie Linden, gave the keynote address at the conference, concluding with a promise to work in partnership with all appropriate agencies to bring about an end to FGM.

Delegates then worked in small groups to answer a series of questions that would help inform and strengthen London’s response to FGM.

I am now reviewing all the material form the day and we will develop specific recommendations for action. Let me thank all who gave their time to contribute so well to the event and let me thank especially Hibo Wardere.

As we progress towards our goal of making London a ‘Zero Cutting City’, the City Hall conference was an important step for me. It ensured the Assembly scrutiny would remain grounded in real life; and it allowed me to re-connect with the current generation of frontline staff.

The generation I was part of managed to secure the legislative base to fight FGM. It was difficult. But I suspect that the current generation of frontline staff in many ways has a harder job. They need to deliver against a high level of expectation; retain the trust of the families they work with whilst ensuring the safety of the children involved; and do all this at a time when our public services are under greater pressure than ever. From what I saw at the conference, the process is in good hands.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/fgm/overview/en/

[2] Wardere, H – Cut: One Woman’s Fight Against FGM in Britain Today – 2016 -ISBN: 9781471153983