NSW Education Program on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

NSW Education Program on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

About us

Our mission

The mission of the NSW Education Program on FGM is to adopt a human rights approach to working with new and existing communities, key stakeholders and service providers using a range of strategies and programs to prevent the occurrence of FGM in NSW and minimise the harmful health effects to women, girls and families who are affected by the practice.

Our goals

  1. Affected communities are empowered through actions that assist them to recognise the health and social effects of FGM and have assumed responsibility and leadership in sustaining the goals of the Program
  2. Workforces trained and skilled in the issues of FGM and providing culturally competent care to affected communities
  3. A range of appropriate educational resource material developed / procured on FGM that can support and inform the FGM Program

Our services

The Program promotes the development of a holistic health approach in working with communities affected by FGM by:

  • facilitating access to the full range of health services in NSW for women, girls and their families affected by or at risk of the practice
  • preventing the occurrence of FGM through an emphasis on community education, information and support
  • assisting women, girls and their families living in NSW who have been affected by FGM to minimise the harmful effects
  • strengthening community ownership of the issues and appropriate approaches to prevention of FGM.

Frequently asked questions about FGM

What is Female Genital Mutilation?

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) refers to any non-therapeutic procedure that involves removal or damage to the external female genitalia. The term encompasses a wide variety of practices ranging from removal or mutilation of the clitoris and labia majora and/or labia minora to nicking of the genitalia.

FGM is a traditional practice performed on girls and adolescent women, usually between the ages of four and fourteen. The procedure is often known as female circumcision or genital cutting in practicing communities.

Where is FGM practiced?

FGM is practiced throughout the world. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that between 100 million and 140 million girls and women worldwide have undergone FGM. A further 3 million girls in Africa are at risk of the procedure every year.

FGM is prevalent in many African countries including, although not limited to: Guinea, Egypt, Mali, the North of Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Côte d'Ivoire, Chad, Central African Republic, Kenya and Senegal. FGM also occurs in some countries in Asia and the Middle East including Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Iraq and the Palestinian territories.

In addition, many women and girls who have been subject to the procedure or are at risk of FGM have migrated to Europe, Australia, Canada and the United States. There is significant variance in the nature and prevalence of FGM within any given country or community. (http://www.who.int/reproductive-health/fgm/prevalence.htm)

Is FGM practiced in Australia?

There is no evidence to suggest that FGM is practiced in Australia. Nevertheless, migration from communities where the practice is common has meant that there are considerable numbers of women and girls who have undergone the procedure living in Australia.

Why is FGM practiced?

FGM is strongly rooted in tradition. It is practiced for a variety of inter-related cultural, social and economic reasons. The practice is thought to enhance hygiene, fertility and child survival and is sometimes viewed as a form of contraception. It is also practiced for aesthetic reasons.

Many communities believe that FGM contributes to social cohesion and family honour. FGM is often seen as a means of ensuring female chastity before marriage and fidelity within marriage. In many communities where it is practiced FGM is viewed as an initiation into womanhood and a prerequisite for marriage.

Is FGM a religious practice?

Although FGM is often erroneously associated with religion, the practice predates religions such as Christianity and Islam and is not sanctioned by any religion.

What are the effects of FGM?

FGM can have harmful physical and psychological consequences. The effects vary in nature and severity depending on the type of procedure, hygiene, skill of practitioner and general health of the girl.

Immediate physical effects can include severe pain, haemorrhage, urine retention wound infection, septicaemia and sometimes death. There is also a risk of HIV and Hepatitis B transmission.

Long-term consequences include anaemia, abscess, urinary incontinence, recurrent bladder and urinary tract infection, damage to adjacent organs, infertility, painful sexual intercourse and complications in childbirth.

FGM can also have a psychological impact, including anxiety, trauma, depression, a loss of trust in parents and long-term sexual dysfunction.

These symptoms can become more pronounced when those affected move from a community in which the practice is common.

What are the health needs of women affected by FGM?

The health needs of women affected by FGM vary depending on both the nature of the procedure and individual factors for the woman concerned.

Women may require frequent gynaecological checks, pre-natal and post-natal care, special family planning and care in menopause and access to female medical practitioners.

Where infibulation or surgical narrowing of the vaginal entrance has occurred, it is necessary to reverse the procedure in preparation for childbirth or to allow sexual intercourse.

What is the Australian Government doing about FGM?

The Australian Government has initiated a national education program on FGM, which aims to prevent the occurrence of FGM with Australia as well as to minimise adverse health and psychological consequences for those affected by the practice. This program is implemented through state and territory health departments. The NSW Education Program on FGM is part of this initiative.

All Australian states have enacted legislation that prohibits the practice of FGM. The NSW Crimes Act 1900 Sec 45 prohibits female genital mutilation. Anyone who performs FGM or aids, abets, counsels or procures a person to perform FGM is liable for up to 21 years imprisonment. The Act is applicable to anyone who is usually a resident in NSW, whether or not FGM is performed within NSW or elsewhere. It is therefore illegal to send a child overseas to undergo FGM. It is not a defence under the Act that the person undergoing FGM consents to the procedure.

Our target communities

The Program is currently working with members of the Egyptian, Ethiopian, Nigerian, Sierra Leonean, Somali, Sudanese, Liberian and Eritrean communities and is planning to extend its services to communities from Burundi and Congo in the future.

These communities are diverse. They differ in culture, language, religion, social structures, background and history of settlement in Australia. The languages spoken within the target communities include Arabic, Amharic, Tigrinya, Igbo/Yoruba, Somali and Krio.

Our Community Education Program

The Community Education Program works directly with communities resident in NSW, who have come from countries where FGM is practiced.

The main community education strategy is the women’s health program: Women’s Health and Traditions in A New Society (WHATINS). This is an 11-session education program conducted by bi-lingual community workers (BCW) with women in the target communities. WHATINS aims to explore women’s health issues, including the health aspects of FGM and the NSW law on FGM. The WHATINS program provides a safe and comfortable environment in which women can confront their own experiences with the practice.

All strategies are based on the core values of respecting and valuing culture whilst emphasising the harmful nature of the practice to the health and well-being of the women and children affected.

The strategies recognise the knowledge base of members of the communities and tap into their existing knowledge and capacities to expand the scope of the program. Individual cultural contexts are explored towards working in a culturally competent manner.

Our Professional Education Program

The Program provides education for health care professionals, counsellors, welfare workers and police who may come into contact with women and girls who are at risk of FGM or have been subjected to the procedure.

Our resources

The NSW Education Program on FGM publishes a variety of resources.

These resources include books, brochures, booklets, banners, posters and postcards and are available to community groups, service providers and educators as tools for information dissemination and education.

Visit our Resources page to obtain copies of our publications.

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