The Mental Scars of FGM

By Plan International UK Youth Advisory Panel

When people think about female genital mutilation (FGM), it is very easy to focus on the physical impact of the procedure, without considering its effect on mental health.

Yet, understandably, girls who have been subjected to FGM feel scared, betrayed and traumatized. FGM can cause flashbacks which can be triggered by anything from pregnancy to undergoing a smear test or even the smell of antiseptic.

Girls may become confused, angry, depressed or anxious. Feelings of fear and shame may become attached to menstruation or sex.

Sources of support

It is therefore critically important that girls and women are given safe and supportive spaces to talk about their feelings – places where they don't feel judged and are comfortable – in order to work through different ways to cope with the impacts of FGM.

In the UK, health services are reasonably accessible, although mental health services are still difficult to access for young people. In many developing countries these services are even harder to access. Frequently, demand for them is too high and girls who have undergone FGM are unable to reach out for help – particularly when their confidence and self-esteem is low, due to what they have been through.

Pragmatic approaches

Gender-specific clinics for FGM and child marriage survivors provide a safe space for girls and young women, with experienced counsellors and medical professionals on hand to provide advice and support. When resources are available to set up these clinics and raise awareness of the services they offer, girls become less shy about seeking help.

It is also vital that those working in health services are appropriately trained on FGM and child marriage, and on working with young people. Having staff who speak the same language or dialect as the girls is also important – the barrier caused by the need for a third-party translator can be intimidating.

Schools have a key role to play. Education on FGM and child marriage must be part of the school curriculum. Once teachers have been trained and health support systems are in place, then young people need to raise awareness of FGM in order to support each other. This would complement the efforts of health workers, helping to empower girls through strong support networks.

Young people, including members of YAP, have presented a Youth Action Statement to global leaders, calling for change in education, law, social empowerment, community and support services to help end FGM and child marriage. Find out more

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