From data released by the Department of Health, the London Borough of Ealing was identified as a hot spot with one of the highest rates of FGM in the UK. It was estimated that 4,4664 girls in Ealing were considered at high risk for FGM and it was most likely to happen between the ages of 6 and 8 years old.
Determined to change this, in 2017 the Ealing Health Improvement Team launched a ground-breaking three-year project to develop a community led approach to tackling female genital mutilation (FGM) by working with local primary schools. With a strong focus on safeguarding and preventing harm, the project focuses on educating school staff, parents and pupils to protect children in the school and to change attitudes to FGM in the wider community.
In the first year of the project, Project Manager Hoda Ali was recruited to work from Perivale Primary School and a new approach was developed and rolled out in Perivale and two other local schools based on a whole school community awareness of FGM. A further six schools were included in the second year of the project. The work across all participating schools is led by Hoda Ali and Claire Meade, Health Improvement Officer for Ealing Council and was supported with funding from the John Lyons Charity.
During the project each school receives:
- FGM staff training session
- Six parent workshops based on safeguarding. These sessions include topics covering the PSHE curriculum, PANTS rule, online safety, and FGM
- Modelled pupil lessons. Hoda and Claire go to each school for two days and deliver FGM awareness raising lessons to pupils in years 3 to 6. Teachers observe and team teach the lessons to raise their own confidence in delivering these lessons
- Local community engagement, to ensure the wider school community also has an increased understanding of FGM
- A safeguarding/FGM steering group which meets once per school term
- Baseline and endline surveys for parents, staff, pupils and the community. These are used to provide each school with an impact report
- Signposting to support for mothers who have undergone FGM themselves.
The project has achieved remarkable results and a further twelve schools have joined the project in its third year. Hoda, Claire and some of the children who had taken part were invited to the UK Parliament to talk about the project and it has been presented at an International Conference on FGM hosted by the UK Home Office.
Project Manager Hoda Ali explains why working with the whole school community is so important to the project’s success and is also very personal for her. “I was cut when I was seven in Somalia. Since then I have had to deal with numerous health issues, including being told that I would not be able to have children. FGM was seen as an acceptable practice when I was growing up even though it is a terrible assault on a girl and child abuse.
“No one stood up for me when I was little and no one was speaking to parents to tell them that they had a choice and could stop FGM in their families. This is why I am so passionate about this project and breaking the harmful cycle of FGM in our families and community. I will keep fighting until we have a world without FGM.”