Hundreds of young girls in Hillingdon are at risk of becoming victims of female genital mutilation (FGM) and awareness of the associated dangers is significantly lower in the borough than elsewhere in west London, according to charity experts.
The Daryeel Foundation and the West London Somaliland Community (WLSC) say 40 per cent of the borough's residents come from ethnic minority backgrounds, including a “large majority” hailing from countries and states where FGM – sometimes euphemistically referred to as female circumcision – is relatively common, such as Somalia, Somaliland, Kenya and Ethiopia.
Representatives from both organisations spoke out against the practice on Friday (February 6), as the United Nations observed its International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM.
Id Muse, director of WLSC, said it was impossible to know how many young girls were being taken abroad from Hillingdon for what is also sometimes known as 'cutting', but he estimated that “hundreds” were potential victims.
He said: “Health-wise, and physically and psychologically, it has a negative impact on a woman's health. It's traumatising and that girl can suffer with mental health problems. And they can have difficulty giving birth and they can have flashbacks.”
The warning comes after new figures showed one in five of England's newly-identified FGM victims come from west London.
Mr Muse said awareness needed to spread among schools, children's centres, GPs, and individuals throughout the borough in order to end tolerance for FGM, which comprises all procedures that involve altering or injuring the female genitalia for non-medical reasons, and is recognised internationally as a violation of human rights.
Marso Abdi, FGM change agent and facilitator for the Daryeel Foundation, said she had spoken to at least one GP in Hillingdon who had never heard of FGM.
She added: “People who live in west London, especially in Hillingdon, we don't have awareness, and they don't know where to go for information.”
On Wednesday, January 28, politicians, education staff, health workers and members of the public came together in Hayes to discuss ways of ending the practice, both locally and nationally.
The awareness event, held at the Old Vinyl Factory in Blyth Road, was organised by the Daryeel Foundation and WLSC, in partnership with the Evelyn Oldfield Unit, a London-based support group.
Those attending compiled a list of 25 action points designed to help tackle the problem.
These included: educating GPs, mothers, men and imams, potentially through classes held across the borough; working with all affected minority groups; and improving communications between relevant agencies.