Day 5 ICM: Suffering 

It has been a difficult day. Thought provoking yes, informative yes but still a difficult one. For those of you who know my work ( or who came to my presentation on Tuesday you will know that I study compassion in midwifery and that compassion, by definition is a response to suffering. Today I attended sessions which highlighted suffering of different sorts and explored responses to it.

I attended three linked presentations on female  genital mutilation (FGM), the first of which was delivered by Elinor Clarke from Coventry University. Elinor gave an clear and useful introduction to the topic and explored the midwife dilemma regarding the mandatory requirement to report FGM and the issues around confidentiality. 

Elinor Clarke, Senior Lecturer in Midwifery at Coventry University and Chair in the FGM National Clinical Group in UK

Later I attended a workshop called Maternity Rights: Making a Difference for Circumcised Women also facilitated by Elinor and other midwives, health workers and activists. Nancy McKenna, a film maker and founder of Safe Hands for Mothers played a key part in this Worksop. See their website

During the workshop clips from her films were shown, highlighting personal accounts from girls who have been through FGM and are still suffering the consequences as well as the stories of those who do the cutting – women – and from men in the communities. We worked in groups to try to generate ideas about how FGM which is so deeply entrenched in the culture of  the communities where it is practised can be stopped. It became apparent what a complex problem it is. I wept as I watched the film clips. It is so barbaric and causes so much suffering. Yet 200 million women and girls are living to day with the effects of FGM and 3.6 million are at risk each year. 

I met Hibo Wardere who is part of The Orchid Project who is an activist.  Her book: Cut, One Woman’s Fight Against FGM in Britain Today gives a personal account of her FGM story. 

She agrees that the problem is a stubborn one and sometimes seems very difficult to make any impact but little by little their work of raising the profile, gaining an understanding the issues in different communities, education, activism, campaigning, communicating and advocating, little by little it is changing but my goodness there is such a long way to go.

Hibo Wardere

I also met Janet Fyle MBE the RCM Professional Policy Advisor. She really challenged my thinking as we went through the workshop excercises and the enormity of the problem revealed itself. My ideas on how FGM might be stopped were naive and simplistic and would not work in the communities where FGM is the norm.  She is in for the long hall and I am thankful for her understanding and work on eradicating FGM. I urge anyone who can support this work in any way to do so. Watch Nacy’s films, and look at the Safe Hands for Mothers Website, read Hibo’s book, get in touch with the Orchid Project, donate, volunteer, do what you can. 

Janet  Wardere

I have other things I would like to report on from the day but I don’t think I can do them justice after attending this workshop. I will include them in tomorrow’s blog instead. 

Thank you for reading, especially as this is such an uncomfortable subject. Let’s work together in whatever way we feel we can to end FGM and the suffering it brings. This is fundamental to compassionate midwifery.


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