An average visit to the toilet takes about a minute. For a girl or a woman who has been genital mutilated it can take up to one hour. If she has had infubulation, which is the third type of mutilation, she often has constant menstruation is it takes about one month for the blood to pour out, meaning that the next period will begin where the previous ended. Apart from severe physical injuries women who have had their genitals mutilated often suffer from psychological and sexual trauma.
The Swedish Gender Equality Agency has responsibility for coordinating the national plan of action against FGM. As a part of that work we arranged a national get together to collect relevant target groups and the professionals who meet them, such as school and care personnel. Representatives from different agencies and organizations met to discuss the best way of altering attitudes and approaches in order to create change.
We know that the procedures happen in countries all over the world, but more studies are needed to get a more updated and comprehensive view of the problem
The National Board of Health and Welfare assessed in 2015 that about 38.000 girls and women have undergone genital mutilation in Sweden. The assessment is however solely based on girls and women with origin in African countries. FGM also has a history in other places such as the Middle East and Asia.
– We know that the procedures happen in countries all over the world, but more studies are needed to get a more updated and comprehensive view of the problem, says Sami Ullah from the British organization Integrate UK, which led the get together alongside the Swedish Gender Equality Agency.
There are two medical receptions in Sweden for girls and women who have undergone FGM; Amelmottagningen at Söder hospital in Stockholm and Vulvamottagningen at Angered hospital in Gothenburg. Matilda Eriksson, expert in honour related violence and oppression at the County Administrative Board of Östergötland, says that they are too few.
– We need more specialised health facilities. The physical consequences from FGM are serious, but it is also incredibly important to give the girls and women support for pshycological traumas. The abuse doesn’t only impact the exposed girl, but also siblings for example, she says.
There is not enough knowledge about FGM within the Swedish healthcare system. A lof of survivors have a hard time talking about their trauma. Having clinicians who don’t know how to approach the issue doesn’t help.
The National competence team against honorrelated violence and oppression, which Matilda is part of, has noticed an increase of calls to their support phone from clinicians who meet exposed girls and women. The calls are still few though.
– There is more talk about genital mutilation of girls and women today, and conversations create conversations. Many professionals do not know how to handle these issues, so our support phone is very important. We see that practical, business-related advice gives results”, she says.
The work against FGM today is largely driven by civil society. The international organization ActionAid is active in Stockholm and arrange group meetings where both victims and those in risk of becoming victims get to socialize and converse.
– Many girls and women don’t even know what they have been exposed to. They have never been allowed to talk about the abuse. To put words on it and talk with others in the same situation is extremely valuable for the healing process, says Tarig Adan from ActionAid.
Luul Jama is the president for the organization Existera (Exist) in Stockholm, consisting of persons who have directly or indirectly been impacted of FGM. Apart from being out in schools and lecture Existera work for a joint plan of action within the healthcare system for victims of FGM.
– There is not enough knowledge about FGM within the Swedish healthcare system. A lof of survivors have a hard time talking about their trauma. Having clinicians who don’t know how to approach the issue doesn’t help then, she says.
In school it is possible for students to get knowledge about FGM, through for example sex and cohabitation education, but also in the meeting with student health. The work to increase the knowledge for the school personnel need to continue so that everyone who work within the school system can act when necessary.
The Swedish National Agency for Education revised the support material for Honorrelated violence and oppression – the school’s responsibility and possibilities last year and included FGM then to highlight the problem and give support to school personnel in the issue.
Us boys must realize that FGM is about violence, and violence is something that concerns us all regardless of gender. Men listen to other men.
– We have now submitted proposals to the Government on curriculum descriptions to strengthen sex and cohabitation education in the first parts of the curricula and shortly we will also submit proposals for course and subject plans. Formulations involving honor have been proposed. Once the government has made a decision, the National Agency for Education will focus on reviewing whether further support is needed for the school staff, says Teresa Fernández Long at the National Agency for Education.
FGM is sometimes described as a “women’s problem”. During the gathering, however, many participants emphasized the importance of having men engaging in the issue. If boys and young men question and deprecate the tradition, there is a risk that they themselves will be subjected to the abuse of their future wives and daughters.
Adnan Naji works at Elektra at Fryshuset in Stockholm. The organization works for a society free from violence and oppression. Through lectures in schools and they work preventative to change attitudes and support young people who live in an honor context.
– Us boys must realize that FGM is about voilence, and violence is something that concerns us all regardless of gender. Men listen to other men. That is what society looks like. By getting more men involved in preventative work the structures will change, he says.
The gathering yielded direct results in the form of new cooperation across sector boundaries. Arbresha Rexhepi, investigator at the Swedish Gender Equality Agency and project manager for the gathering, points to the importance of creating platforms for exchange of experience and knowledge.
– Not everyone needs to be experts in genital mutilation, but everyone should know enough to provide support, knowledge and information to the target groups concerned. There is a need to see that there is a context in which your work can be supported, inspired by and developed with. I look positively at the work ahead of us, inspired by all the initiatives taken during these days, she says.