Welsh Education Secretary Kristy Williams is highlighting the important role that Welsh schools can have in identifying and helping potential victims of female genital mutilation (FGM). Williams recently sent a letter to Welsh schools in order to raise awareness about female genital mutilation and the impact that such violence can have on survivors.
Nearly 137,000 women and girls, possibly more, are estimated to have been affected by FGM in Wales and England.
According to WalesOnline, even though FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985, new cases are still being discovered on average every three days by maternity staff. The article also says, “Figures obtained by BBC Wales earlier this year show 123 victims of FGM were found by midwives or maternity doctors across Wales in 2016. A further 44 children under the age of 18 were highlighted as vulnerable to the practice.”
Many women have welcomed Williams’ letter as a way to open up dialogue on the subject. They also hope that the letter will bring some much-needed awareness to the issue of FGM.
In her letter, Williams states, “I have written to schools to seek their assistance in helping eradicate this particularly abhorrent form of violence against women and girls. It is imperative we all recognize the warning signs of a child who might be at risk. Female Genital Mutilation is child abuse and a criminal offence. It cannot be justified as a cultural or religious practice and leaders of all main faiths have rightly spoken out against it.”
Williams continues, “School and college staff must play a crucial role in safeguarding young people from abuse, which is why it is vital that they [be] alert to the signs of FGM and what action to take if they have concerns. Staff should also be aware that young girls may be taken abroad in summer holidays to undergo FGM, as procedures take up to four weeks to heal. The procedure may therefore be performed before a girl returns to school at the start of the autumn term. It is essential that staff [be] vigilant in looking for signs of FGM after the school holidays and report anything that may seem suspicious to the appropriate professional.”
Williams concludes the letter by saying, “I want all of us to be more aware of this unacceptable abuse, so together we can put an end to FGM in Wales.”
Sheila Jerome, an FGM survivor who says she moved to the UK to keep her child safe from the practice, told WalesOnline that female genital mutilation is “the highest [form of] abuse against women.” Jerome was happy to see Williams’ letter go out to schools, but also warns that “FGM is a complex cultural issue that must be tackled in the right way.”
Jerome notes that many women and communities remain silent when it comes to the practice and adds, “That is why it is so important for me to talk about it. So that people will know about this harmful practice.”
While female genital mutilation is illegal in many countries, it is, unfortunately, still a common practice in many communities around the world. The more awareness we bring to the practice, the closer we can come to putting an end to FGM.
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