An end to the abhorrent practice of Female Genital Mutilation

Female Genital Mutilation is an unacceptable and illegal practice. It is a form of violence against women that violates human right and has no place in Scotland – or anywhere else.

As we mark International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, we must remember that FGM isn’t just an issue overseas, it is an issue right here in Scotland.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) define FGM as ‘all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons’.

There are currently over 200 million women and girls alive today who have suffered FGM. Not only have they been victim to this abhorrent procedure, they also can experience resulting health problems, including:

  • Repeated infections that can cause infertility, pain during urination, periods, and sex and complications with childbirth
  • Mental health problems including depression
  • Post traumatic stress disorder

That is no life. No one should suffer in this way.

In many countries and cultures, FGM is seen as a “rite of passage” as well as a prerequisite for marriage. Women and girls who have not had the procedure are often seen as dirty, ugly, or not pure. The procedure is done in a bid to prevent girls from having pre-marital sex – so that they’ll be ‘pure’ for their husband on their wedding day.

The practice is most commonly found in countries throughout Africa, Asia and the Middle East. In Somalia, among women and girls aged 15-49, 98 per cent have undergone some form of FGM in their life. This shows just how difficult it is to eradicate.

But we know that FGM is an issue in Scotland, despite being illegal since 1985. Due to the sensitive nature, and the fact that it’s most often carried out by or at the request of parents, FGM is a widely unreported crime in Scotland.

Given it can be such a hidden issue, it is vital that our agencies and practitioners work together to promote the safety and wellbeing of women and girls. The Scottish Government launched an action plan in 2016 which provides a framework to prevent and ultimately eradicate FGM.

The action plan offers women who suffer the trauma of FGM specialist mental health services. It also details how all social work offices and health boards need to have one professional with expertise in the area as part of their team.

The Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (Scotland) Act 2005 made it a criminal offence to have female genital mutilation carried out in Scotland or abroad, and increased the maximum penalty from five to 14 years imprisonment.

We all have a role to play. FGM is a reprehensible and completely unacceptable, illegal practice that no person should have to suffer. It is easy to condemn, but it is less easy to eradicate.

Ruth Maguire is SNP MSP for Cunninghame South

If you’re concerned you or someone you know is at risk of or has undergone FGM help is available at: