New FGM support kit launched in Australia

It's hoped a new resource just released will help Australian women and girls who have experienced genital mutilation.

The World Health Organisation estimates that there are more than 125 million girls and women who have experienced female genital mutilation. 

It's not known how many live in Australia, but some are among the migrant and refugee communities from African, Middle Eastern, and Asian countries.

Health workers and medical professionals say they need specialised support services that are culturally-appropriate. 

A new resource just launched in Melbourne aims to try to help ensure that occurs.

Adeshola Ore reports.

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Female genital mutilation or cutting, often called FGM or FGC, refers to procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitals.

It's often connected to a girl's marriageability in countries where it is performed.

And it's generally performed on girls aged between 5 and 14.

The practice is illegal in Australia, and the Melbourne-based Multicultural Centre for Women's Health believes it rarely occurs here.

The centre has launched what it's calling a toolkit to support health and community workers who come across cases of women and girls who have experienced FGM.

Executive Director of the Centre, Adele Murdolo, says it's part of an international effort to try to have the practice abandoned altogether.

"The biggest barrier I think is really not having enough resources for the communities to be able to develop good strategies and then work within the community to help that community abandon that practice. So I think we really need to provide the support and resources that are needed for each community to develop the stratagies that it needs to develop and then work within that community to have a long term plan for prevention and abandonment."

The Multicultural Centre for Women's Health says FGM has no known health benefits and can often cause short and long term health problems.

Dr Murdolo says some migrant women have told her the procedure has had devastating impacts on their physical health, while others report no impact.

But she says the procedure often has an effect on women's mental health.

"Even if the physical impact is small of any kind of FGC, the psychological impact, we've heard from young women themselves is large. I guess it comes back to body image, that if we feel girls need to be altered at birth because they're not perfect exactly as they they are, perhaps that contributes to that sense of not being quite right and the not being quite right connected to our gender. "

Juliana Nkrumah from African Women Australia runs a program that trains young women from different cultural groups to speak to their communities about FGM.

The program has trained 14 women from nine different communities, most of them African.

She says it's crucial that a community member and not an outsider delivers a message about FGM prevention.

"I think it's really, really important that women from the communities take the centre-stage here because apart from all of us, they know better. It's their experience, plus originally, when they were going to be circumcised, they were not given a choice. So, why would we take their voices again? I think it's a process of double trauma. OK, I have this, I want to talk about it. If somebody's going to talk about it, why not me? If we don't allow them, if we go to consult them so we can talk about, we are undermining their power structure."

Final year medical student at James Cook University, Usama Shahid says his research with Somalian male refugees in Northern Queensland found males had varied views about FGM.

"From the vast majority interaction I've had it's either been on a religious basis or totally against it. But the best thing I found is that it's really amenable to change so it is quite a possibility in this opportunity of window."

Casta Tungaraza from the African Women's Council of Australia holds an African girls' rites of program called Mama na Mwana that discussess FGM.

The sessions are held in homes, with family and friends invited to attend.

They discuss FGM along with sessions on safe sex and relationships.

The grandmothers and mothers of the daughters are encouraged at the end of the session to sign a pledge that says "FGM ends with me."

She says the program delivers culturally-appropriate information in a safe environment that aims to shift the perception that FGM is a part of culture.

"You hope that the grandmother will not force to perform FGM to the grandchild. And the daughter knows where to go, where to get services, where support comes from. So it's a very, very, I think it's a holistic program that responds to the needs, the cultural gap that African parents face and at the same time, provides information to the girls, empowers the girls and erdicates FGM, I hope, in the future."

Copies of the FGM toolkit are being distributed to community health workers throughout Australia.




Source World News Australia

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