Medics and midwives in the Illawarra are being trained to treat victims of female genital mutilation (FGM) as a part of a state-wide program across New South Wales to stop the practice.
The FGM program, run by NSW Health encourages young girls who live in the region to contact the organisation if they fear that they could be targeted for the cultural custom.
Female genital mutilation refers to “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”
Although the practice is seen as a human rights violation, it is ingrained in many societies, with the understanding that the process is motivated by “beliefs about what is considered acceptable sexual behaviour.”
According to coordinator Linda George, the program is being run regularly in regional areas, including Wollongong, to educate certain migrant communities – and the health professionals who treat them.
“There’s 48 countries around the world that practise female genital mutilation, and some of these communities began to migrate to Australia in the late 70s. So we work closely with these communities to raise awareness about the harmful effects of the practice, and that it’s a criminal offence under Australian legislation,” she said.
200 million girls and women around the world have undergone ritual cutting, and 44 million of these victims are aged 14 or under, with the majority having undergone the procedure before the age of five.
There has been an overall decline in FGM over the last thirty years, yet not all countries have made progress. One of the most prominent countries that the practice is still prominent is Guinea, as it is illegal, yet 97% of girls aged 15-49 are FGM victims.
Although the custom was generally carried out overseas, there has been evidence of it occurring in Australia – and a little close to home.
In March this year Australia’s first criminal trial for female circumcision was undertaken, where a mother and midwife were sentenced to 15 months jail time over the mutilation of two young sisters in Wollongong and Sydney’s west before 2012.
There are many reasons for the custom to take place, with many cultures believing that it is a viable way to ‘purify’ the young girls of the community.
Ms George believes that it’s education, not condemnation that these people needed, encouraging health workers, or girls at risk, to contact the program for support on (02) 9840 3877.