Young people's voices at the heart of campaign to end FGM in Bristol

Issue date: 12 May 2016


Glenside Campus, UWE Bristol

Bristol's new mayor is joining young people, key organisations, professionals and community figures from across Bristol to renew calls for a zero tolerance approach to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

An official launch event is taking place this week at the University of the West of England (13 May) to kick off a series of activities happening before the summer holidays, when girls are thought to be most at risk.

Putting young people's voices at the heart of the campaign, members of Empowering - the youth arm of campaigning group FORWARD - have shaped the agenda for the day with the support of Bristol's FGM Delivery and Safeguarding Partnership. The partnership brings together the council, NHS, Bristol CCG, Avon and Somerset Police, Integrate Bristol and FORWARD along with other partners. It also has the support of new Bristol mayor Marvin Rees.

Angie Kohli-Mckenzie from Empowering, said, “We've designed the event to include lots of different voices and perspectives on FGM. It's important that we talk about this issue so at the launch event we will have engaging talks from speakers, creative videos and health care specialists from the local community sharing first-hand knowledge.”

The summer campaign is aimed at members of affected communities, health professionals – including social workers, doctors, medical students and hospital staff - as well as researchers, students and the general public who are interested in finding out more. This work sits under the Bristol Zero Tolerance initiative which is working towards Bristol becoming a city free from gender-based violence, abuse, harassment and exploitation.

With one of the largest affected populations outside of London, Bristol has long been known for its work to prevent FGM having developed a 'Bristol Model' outlining the city's innovative approach.

Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol said, “FGM is a truly horrific practice which has no place in Bristol or any modern city. Engaging with local people and communities to change attitudes is essential and it's motivating to see a new generation speaking out this year. Much has already been achieved, but we can't stop tackling this until all young women are safe.

“I've been really clear about my vision for closer partnership working in Bristol and this initiative is a great example of what can be achieved when we listen to our communities, let the right people lead and support them in doing what's right.”

Sally Lewis, Chair of Bristol's Safeguarding Children Board, said, “The voice of young people is central to this year's summer campaign, and they have the support of many organisations in the city. The lack of knowledge and reluctance to talk about FGM is being chipped away each year with more people joining the call to end the practice. We should be very proud of Bristol for leading the way with this.”

Jackie Mathers, Co-Chair of the FGM Delivery and Safeguarding Partnership and designated nurse for safeguarding children at Bristol CCG, said, “There is no one organisation or profession that can keep girls safe from FGM, so it is only by working together with affected communities that we can bring about positive change. Safeguarding is everyone's business and there are many who can help make a difference so we're trying to engage lots of different people including professionals and people from affected communities. The young people from Empowering and Integrate will be the parents of the future. We owe it to them to listen to their messages, support them in their work and stand by them in their goal to end FGM in a generation.”

DCI Leanne Pook said, “The key to ending FGM is to empower the next generation of parents to reject the practise and to make safer choices for themselves and their daughters. We're very fortunate in Bristol to work alongside remarkable young people who have not only taken this stance against all gender based violence but who also work tirelessly to help others to do the same.

“It has been another great year for both Empowering and for Integrate who have taken their work throughout the UK. Along with Forward and the Refugee Women of Bristol, they play a critical role in keeping Bristol on the map in terms of the work being done to end FGM.

“The challenge now as we enter the period when FGM risk increases significantly and beyond is for all agencies to follow the example set by these remarkable charities in developing our expertise in this area, making best use of the protective measures and legislation available and most importantly working alongside and within affected communities.”

Saadye Ali, Co-Chair of the FGM Delivery and Safeguarding Partnership, Bristol Community Health Advocate and PhD Public Health Student at UWE Bristol, said: “As the city's future leaders, young people are fantastic advocates for change so I'm delighted to see Empowering taking the lead on this year's launch event. FGM is illegal and an abuse of human rights so it's firmly on the political and social agenda, but we need to keep the momentum going and encourage people to have difficult conversations to break down the taboo. As a nurse from one of the affected communities I feel very strongly about this issue.”

Following on from the launch event, FORWARD's Community Advocates will be hosting workshops starting June, in different settings in communities across Bristol including schools and community centres. This will keep the momentum going throughout the summer with an aim of engaging people from various backgrounds in the campaign.

An event sponsored by the University of the West of England's Social Science in the City research strand took place on 10 May 2016 at the Watershed. Based around research conducted recently by Dr Aida Abzhaparova and Professor Debra Salmon, the event explored the nature and effect of national campaigns aimed at eradicating FGM from the perspective of affected communities in Bristol.

Dr Aida Abzhaparova, said, “FGM takes place in private, yet it is discussed and criticised in public. We aim to demonstrate how our study, being informed by the members of affected communities, can help to bridge the gap between the public and personal spaces. Our study concerns itself with how FGM can be successfully eradicated and abolished without negative impacts on public health, the individual and the community.”

As part of the campaign Bristol City Council's Safeguarding in Education team will also be sending letters out to all schools in the city encouraging them to stay vigilant to FGM and reminding teachers that they are bound to report suspected cases. Advice about risk factors and fact sheets will help teachers to identify the signs that someone might be at vulnerable and free training is also offered to teachers on the topic of FGM.

Becky Pollard, Bristol City Council's director of public health, said: “We're supporting schools to teach students about healthy relationships to tackle gender based violence in an accessible way. I'm pleased that each year Bristol's summer campaign gains more traction - along with our partners we will continue working tirelessly to prevent FGM and keep our young women safe.”

If you suspect FGM, contact First Response: 0117 9036444, or contact the police on 101. For more information and advice about FGM contact the NSPCC FGM helpline on 0800 028 3550.

For more information or for free tickets to attend the launch event, visit: http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/empowering-10636731544. You can follow the campaign on Twitter with the hashtag #EndFGMBristol.

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