"A big wake-up call" - Study in Bristol, UK

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In the last few years there has been increased efforts by UK policy makers to respond to FGM. In 2009, a pioneering community empowerment programme, in partnership with Refugee Women of Bristol, was initiated as part of the Bristol Model on FGM, a city-wide partnership to respond to the emerging problem of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Today the Bristol Model on FGM is nationally recognised as a best-practice model, which is based on multi-agency collaboration to deliver a holistic programme of responses to FGM.

The programme focuses on safeguarding girls at risk, and on community engagement to enable FGM-affected communities to assume an active role at the forefront of work towards ending this entrenched practice. Girls and young women in Bristol are now less at risk of being ‘cut’ or subject to FGM, thanks to this unique and complex city partnership, which has helped to mobilise community women and men in confronting this taboo subject and championing change.

The Bristol Model has put community voices, particularly those of women and girls, at the centre of awareness campaigns and actions to prevent FGM here, and in the countries of origin of those who have come to live here. FGM and other violence against women and girls is no longer the shameful and taboo subject it was. People have become aware of the health, mental health and human rights implications of subjecting young women and girls to FGM. Community leaders are speaking out. Police, health and social services are taking action. And women and girls themselves are now saying louder than ever: no more FGM.

The efficiency of The Bristol Model is now so recognised that it is being taken up in UK wide pilots, as well as in countries that have traditionally practiced FGM. But the battle against this harmful form of violence against women and girls is not yet won, neither in Bristol nor in the world beyond. Language barriers, misunderstanding of the practice, or ignorance of laws and legislation, hard-line community traditions and gender norms still stand in the way of protecting girls and young women from this violation. The Bristol Project may be over. But the lessons learned, and the successes celebrated here, must continue to reverberate for many years to come.