Women from across the city have united in their fight against female genital mutilation, a procedure which affects thousands of girls.
Female genital mutilation is a collective term for all procedures which include the partial or total removal of the external female genital organs for non-medical or therapeutic reasons.
It is impossible to say for sure how many women are affected by this practice in Sheffield, as there is no specific research in to the exact numbers, but official statistics show that the city is a high risk area.
Information released by the Government show that at least one per cent of women under the age of 16 are at risk of FGM. Using 2011 census data, this means that more than 480 girls are vulnerable.
According to the Women Community Knowledge Profile 2014, produced by Sheffield Council, the charity Forward estimate that around 2.14 per cent of births in 2004 were to women who have undergone FGM, which would mean around 130 babies at risk of having FGM themselves.
It is with these shocking statistics in mind that Fixers, a charity aimed at giving young people a voice and helping them talk out their personal experiences, has launched its campaign.
They held an FGM awareness event after working with 20-year-old Najma, who now lives in Sheffield but was given the procedure in Somalia aged 11.
Najma, who did not use her real identity to front the project, begged her mum to be given FGM as she saw it as a rites of passage. After moving to Sheffield she changed her mind and now wants to warn other girls about the horrors and danger of the procedure.
“If I was still in Somalia I wouldn’t even think of speaking up about these things because my life would be at risk,” she said.
“But now that I’m in a free country, where people can be open, I want to try to help girls who could lose their lives from FGM. Girls who don’t have a choice about whether or not they are cut.”
A statement on the Sheffield Safeguarding Children Board said: “It is acknowledged that some FGM-practising families do not see it as an act of abuse.
“However, female genital mutilation has severe significant physical and mental health consequences both in the short and long term, and must not be excused, accepted or condoned.”
The ‘Say No to FGM’ event was attended by around 20 women, all who praised Najma’s bravery and called for more to be done to prevent FGM happening on our doorstep.
One woman, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “I have known about FGM for over 30 years, however Najma is the first person I knew who had suffered this barbaric and dangerous practice.
“I feel that to get any further, their has to be much more involvement from medically qualified people – midwives, doctors, gynaecologists and antenatal care providers.
“We need an education programme in schools and youth groups. And, we need much more publicity.”
Another woman, who also did not want to be identified, said: “For me, it touched home because I know a lot of girls that this has happened to and they all think it’s normal, so it will be good to show them this project.”
Linda McAvan, MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber, was also among the women who attended at Youth Association South Yorkshire, Carver Street.
“I didn’t associate FGM so strongly with the city where I live. It’s always more shocking when you see it’s on your doorstep. Sheffield is a hot spot for the practice so I think the work that Fixers is doing is really important.
“It’s really not right, we have to work with communities to get understanding that the practice is unnecessary, in fact it’s damaging. This is not the way forward for our daughters and our women.
“We are going to start measuring the number of women affected so that we can monitor whether we can cut the numbers.
“Change will take people changing their attitudes, these things have to be fought for but we need to make sure it becomes a thing of the past.”
She added that the practice was not specifically linked to any religion, it is linked to cultural traditions and happens across all religions and in all areas.
The event came at a time when Ashiana, a Sheffield-based charity who are at the forefront of developing education and supporting to victims of FGM, is working hard to raise awareness across the city.
As the specialist provider, they have developed close links with relevant agencies and sit on the Sheffield City Wide FGM Task and Finish group, within which they are reviewing need, services and response to the issue.
The charity has recently received £3,000 funding from ROSA UK to help them further develop their services, including the development of community champions who will work alongside Ashiana to raise awareness in their communities.
Chief executive Nicola Lambe said: “The aims are to work with women from established and newly arrived communities to raise awareness about the health, social and legal implications of FGM.
“We will deliver awareness raising and support sessions to women within the communities most affected, in safe women only spaces.
“We would recruit a small group of women who could sign-post information and a leaflet, translated into appropriate languages, which can be widely distributed across Sheffield.
“Champions will be encouraged to strengthen the voice of communities speaking out against FGM and create space and opportunities to discuss this traditionally hidden practice.”
n The launch comes as South Yorkshire Police release a video to try to bring an end to ‘cruel and dangerous’ female genital mutilation.
The video has been produced as part of the United Nations Day of Zero Tolerance for female genital mutilation.
Det Sgt Suzanne Bluck, of South Yorkshire Police, said: “FGM is an incredibly taboo subject that needs to be talked about.
“The only way we can bring an end to this cruel and very dangerous practice is by raising awareness and I would ask people to help share our film as a positive way of supporting the international day of action.
“While we believe the majority of female genital mutilation cases take place outside this country, this is an under-reported crime and we know it happens here in the UK and in South Yorkshire.
“During the last two years police in Sheffield have intervened in protecting four young girls from being taken abroad, and who were believed to be at risk of female genital mutilation.
“The girls’ families came from east and west Africa, but we know this happens in communities across the world.”