Bristol has one of the highest rates of female genital mutilation (FGM) in the United Kingdom. Forward UK and Refugee Women of Bristol are working together to tackle violence again girls and women, and their activities include the Bristol Model and Bristol PEER research project. The ‘Raising our Voices’ conference marked international zero tolerance to FGM, celebrated the work that has already been done and brought together those working to #EndFGM.
The conference on Wednesday 22nd February provided an opportunity for the results, impact and reach of the work undertaken to be discussed – I went along to find out how Bristol Zero Tolerance can support the pioneering work undertaken by women and men in Bristol.
The day started with an introduction from Avon & Somerset PCC Sue Mountstevens, who praised both organisations for their work in spreading the word on FGM and refusing to be silenced. She gave a short anecdote about her own elderly mother who smashes social taboo and discusses FGM with anyone she meets. Sue shared her frustration at the pace of legislation change but highlighted that engagement and education can fill the gap. She ended the introduction stating that “together, (we are) far too powerful to be stopped.”
Starting in 2008 the Bristol PEER study aimed to assess shifting attitudes and perceptions of FGM. The researchers were women from communities that practise FGM and as a result had the knowledge and foresight to be tactful and considerate. The aim of the research was to assess community attitudes and create a sense of ownership for participants. We gained a tangible sense of the passion and commitment the researchers have and listening to them explain their difficulties while conducting the research reinforced the fact that FGM is a complex topic. Naana and Amani only had a short period of time to share the findings, but two outcomes stuck with me – many women have difficulty accessing support services due to language barriers and that it is important to engage and educate fathers, brothers, husbands. It was clear to me that providing translation for the existing support services could be crucial in ensuring engagement. In terms of male engagement, it was absolutely fascinating to hear Solomon Amare Zewolde talk about ‘Men Speak Out’ and his involvement in the research project to access male attitudes towards FGM in Belgium, France and the United Kingdom.
The conference provided a fantastic opportunity for the public and professionals to come together to discuss the challenges and complexities of eliminating FGM. At Bristol Zero Tolerance we are keen to support the work done by all involved in the Bristol Community Project on Female Genital Mutilation. If you’d like to get involve, visit Forward UK and Refugee Women of Bristol to find out more.