Mary Wandia, FGM programme manager at Equality Now, said that the numbers were likely to keep rising as more women came forward to access health care. “This is the tip of the iceberg,” she said. “It shows that training of health, social and education professionals is more urgent than ever. Those coming in contact with girls potentially at risk of FGM and women affected by it still don’t have clear pathways and don’t always know what to do.”
But she added that huge progress had been made to providing a comprehensive approach to tackling FGM in the UK. “It is no longer in the shadows and is clearly on the national agenda. We just need to keep working to ensure that the law is properly implemented and that every single girl is protected,” she said.
FGM has become a key issue in the UK in the last 12 months, after high-profile public campaigns gained public support. A Guardian petition saw the department of education write to schools about the dangers of FGM, while steps have been taken by the Department of Health and the Home Office to ensure cases are recorded and victims are better supported.
An estimated 137,000 women and girls in England and Wales are affected by FGM, according to a study by Equality Now and City University, released in July.
FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985, but there is yet to be a successful prosecution. Earlier this month, the Crown Prosecution Service came under fire for its decision to prosecute a doctor at the Whittington hospital in London. He was found not guilty of performing FGM by suturing a patient to stop her bleeding after childbirth.
The World Health Organisation estimates that up to 140 million girls and women have been subjected to FGM, a traditional practice designed to curb sexuality that involves the partial or total removal of the outer sexual organs. The procedure can cause lifelong physical and psychological complications.