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Committee calls for greater engagement on FGM bill

Image credit: Scottish Government

Committee calls for greater engagement on FGM bill

A Holyrood committee is calling on the Scottish Government to ensure female genital mutilation (FGM) protection orders “are not something that is ‘done to’ a woman or community” by better engaging with those affected.

The Female Genital Mutilation (Protection and Guidance) (Scotland) Bill passed stage one today, after the Equalities and Human Rights Committee supported the general principles of the legislation, which aims to strengthen legal protection for women and girls at risk of FGM.

The bill would create a new court order that imposes requirements on a person to protect a woman or girl from FGM and prevent further harm if FGM had already occurred. Breaching a Female Genital Mutilation Protection Order (FGMPO) would be a criminal offence carrying a penalty of up to five years’ imprisonment.

The Scottish Government introduced an FGM action plan in 2016, with the aim of eradicating FGM in Scotland. The bill was introduced by the Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People, Shirley-Anne Somerville, on 29 May 2019. The lead committee has been taking evidence since September and has visited organisations who work with women, girls and communities affected by FGM.

Now, the committee says it is seeking “more information from the Scottish Government on how FGM will be consistently built into the relationships, sexual health and parenthood education as part of the curriculum”.

“The committee asks the Scottish Government how it will engage with and involve women and communities in the development of guidance and awareness around FGM protection orders, and how it will monitor and evaluate success,” the committee’s stage one report stated.

The committee spoke to a researcher who highlighted the views of 12 FGM-affected women living in Scotland and said other methods “like a leaflet signed by the Chief of Police” may be just as effective as the orders.

One of the organisations the committee visited, a multi-cultural family base in Leith, pointed out that a protection order often needed to protect the whole family “as it’s rarely the case that just one person is at risk”.

The committee agreed FGM protection orders would strengthen existing protections, noting it could empower women and give them more options and opportunities, but found to ensure the bill’s protection orders were “not something that is ‘done to’ a woman or community’” then more engagement was “essential”.

Convener Ruth Maguire said that while the committee supported the general principles of the bill, it called on the government to “address a number of concerns raised by those who gave evidence to the committee, particularly in relation to barriers to accessing support, resourcing of support services, and professional education and training”.

“Female Genital Mutilation is a harmful, unnecessary practice that causes extreme physical and psychological harm to women and girls and violates their human rights,” she said.

“While FGM is already illegal, this legislation will provide an additional legal protection which will empower a person at risk to apply for a protection order, while also allowing a member of their family, social worker or police officer, to seek a court order to protect that person from harm.”

The committee also asked the government to look at how it could support women and healthcare professionals who work outside of maternity services to talk about FGM. 

It sought more information from the government about how FGM “will be consistently built into relationships, sexual health and parenthood education as part of the curriculum”.

Regarding anonymity, the committee said in the absence of automatic anonymity then anonymity “on request” would be a “reasonable expectation for those at risk” and asked the government to set out how this could be achieved.

The stage one debate of the bill will be held in Scottish Parliament on 18 December 2019.

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