Nowhere in England and Wales is "free from FGM", finds new report

A new report – published ahead of the one-year anniversary of the UK's first Girl Summit – shows that no local authority area in England and Wales is free from female genital mutilation.

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A new report on the prevalence of female genital mutilation (FGM) in England and Wales shows that no local authority area in England and Wales is likely to be free from FGM entirely.

The report, published by City University London and Equality Now, also reveals that those who have undergone FGM do not exclusively reside in the large cities of England and Wales. Although many of the affected women live in densely populated areas (where migrants tend to reside), others are scattered around rural areas.

The percentage of women born to mothers who have undergone FGM varies considerably between regions and local authorities in England and Wales (ranging from 10.4 per cent in one London borough to virtually zero elsewhere). 

London has by far the highest prevalence, with an estimated 2.1 per cent of women living in London being victims of FGM, according to the report.

The report suggests that Southwark has the highest prevalence of FGM in Britain, with an estimated 4.7 per cent of women living in Southwark. Southwark also reportedly has the highest percentage of women born to mothers with FGM, at 10.4 per cent of all births (of girls) in Southwark. 

Although most of the highest rates are in London, outside of London, the highest estimates of FGM are in Manchester, Slough, Bristol, Leicester and Birmingham, ranging from 1.2 to 1.6 per cent. The report finds other authorities, including Thurrock, Milton Keynes, Cardiff, Coventry, Sheffield, Reading, Northampton and Oxford, have rates of over 0.7 per cent.

This research follows last year's report that revealed an estimated 137,000 women and girls with FGM, all born in countries where FGM is practised, were living permanently in England and Wales in 2011.

The latest study, funded by Trust for London and the Home Office, comes just before the one-year anniversary of the Girl Summit 2014, an event co-hosted by UNICEF that aimed at mobilising domestic and international efforts to end FGM and forced marriages.

The report combines information from surveys in 29 countries where FGM is commonly practised, along with information collected from the 2011 consensus about the women with FGM who had migrated from those countries.

The report also combines the survey data with birth data from the Office for National Statistics. This acts as a guide for the researchers to estimate the number of mothers affected by FGM giving birth each year from 2005 to 2013, and therefore the number of girls born to mothers with FGM.

I ask Mary Wandia, the FGM programme manager of Equality Now, what she would like to see done with the Female Genital Mutilation Act (2003). She replies:

The current law against FGM is strong. Since 2003, it has been illegal to take girls out of the country to undergo FGM  as well as in the UK, while recent legal changes have strengthened measures related to child protection. There is no reason to continue to fail any of our girls. As a society, we all have a role and responsibility to safeguard girls at risk  to know the tell-tale signs and work towards preventing FGM from happening. This is what the law is for  protecting girls, so this extreme form of violence against girls can be eliminated in this generation.

I also ask how we can stop FGM happening in both the UK and overseas. Wandia commends the UK for its attempts to tackle FGM: 

The UK is doing a good job of ending FGM but we have to make sure that FGM continues to be treated as a human rights violation. We hope that the UK can become a model for other countries in terms of ending FGM, but psychological, emotional and medical support is still urgently needed for survivors, so we can break the cycle once and for all.

In a statement to the NSKaren Bradley, the Home Office's Minister for Preventing Abuse and Exploitation, says:

FGM is a serious crime and it is child abuse. We are determined to end this terrible crime.

These new figures, together with health prevalence data, give us a much clearer picture of how FGM affects women and girls across England and Wales.

Local areas should use this information to tailor their services to the needs of survivors and girls at risk. To help local areas we have already strengthened the law around FGM, given more support to frontline professionals, and we continue to work with communities to support them in changing attitudes.

Tosin Thompson writes about science and was the New Statesman's 2015 Wellcome Trust Scholar.