Local authorities must work harder to protect girls at risk of female genital mutilation as research suggests there is no area of England and Wales not affected by the practice.
That was the message from a report by City University London and Equality Now, which found that while many affected women live in urban areas where migrant populations tend to be clustered, there are also victims scattered across rural areas.
‘Virtually every part of England and Wales’
London boroughs were estimated to have the highest rates, followed by Manchester, Slough, Bristol, Leicester and Birmingham. Cities outside London tended to have prevelance rates between 1.2-1.6% of women, while the rates are much higher inside the capital. In the London borough of Southwark, the prevalence rate was 4.7% of women, while in Brent it was 3.9%. Across England and Wales as a whole, the prevalence rate is estimated at 0.5% of women.
Alison Macfarlane, author of the report and professor of perinatal health at City University, said the figures, although estimates, suggest women who have undergone female genital mutilation are living in “virtually every part of England and Wales”.
Local authorities must support victims during pregnancy and childbirth, and not stigmatise them, she said. It is also important for the local authority to take on a safeguarding role against the practice.
“The women concerned are very diverse. Although some have had little education and have limited knowledge of English, many are university graduates, or at least have completed secondary school.
“As a result, the estimates in this report should be used as signposts to guide professionals in planning services for affected women and in engaging with them,” Macfarlane said.
‘Extreme form of violence’
The research combined information from surveys in 29 countries where the genital mutilation of females is commonly practiced, and data was available, with 2011 census data about women who had migrated to England and wales from those countries.
Mary Wandia, programme manager for female genital mutilation at Equality Now, said local authorities need to urgently respond to these new estimates.
“The UK as a whole should also continue to lead the way on providing a model to tackle this extreme form of violence against girls and women,” Wandia said.
She added: “This means stepping up work to prevent it, protecting girls at risk, providing support to survivors, pursuing prosecutions when necessary and continuing to develop relevant partnerships, to ensure that all work to end this human rights violation is ‘joined up’ and effective at every level.”