Morten Watkins & Katie Dichard
On Wednesday 31st October, the medical school’s sexual health medicine society (SexSoc) held their first event. They screened the documentary Africa Rising; a powerful film about grassroots movements in Africa working to wipe out female genital mutilation (FGM).
The one hour film was followed by a Q&A session with Equality Now’s Efua Dorkenoo, OBE. The event was held in the Audrey Emerton building, opposite the Royal Sussex County Hospital and was attended by students from a number of disciplines.
Recently founded by third year medical students Katie Dichard and Beth McCausland, SexSoc aims to tackle taboos in sexual health, such as abortion and sexual violence, as well as provide teaching on the more everyday aspects of genitourinary medicine.
Katie Dichard commented “there hasn’t been a society focused on sexual health at the medical school yet and we thought it would also be a great platform to talk about global human rights issues because they’re interesting for people in all kinds of work and study.”
FGM is not a practice isolated to Africa – thousands of girls, as young as five or six, living in the United Kingdom undergo the potentially life threatening act every year. Teachers and health care professionals are the people most likely to recognize that mutilation may have occurred, but many feel they cannot address the issue for fear of interfering with another culture. Ms Dorkenoo stressed to the students that, by being “too politically correct”, we are letting the practice continue.
She suggested we should open the dialogue around FGM in order to protect young women from a lifetime of suffering, particularly with families who originate from countries where cutting is rife. In Egypt, for example, it is estimated that 98% of girls have undergone genital mutilation.
Beth McCausland commented, “It’s just something that we don’t want to talk about because it’s awkward and we’d rather pretend it doesn’t happen.”
Female genital mutilation varies in its severity but is always extremely traumatizing and medically unnecessary. The practice ranges from cutting the clitoris, to the most extreme form, called infibulation. Infibulation is the removal of the entire clitoris, labia minora and labia majora, followed by sewing up the remaining skin so that only a small hole remains for menstrual blood, urine and childbirth.
Girls and women who have undergone any form of genital cutting are at risk of infection, either immediately from the thorns frequently used to sew the skin together or later in life from retention of blood or urine.
It is important to make the distinction between female genital mutilation and male circumcision. The male equivalent of FGM would involve, at the very least, slicing through the penis or, at its very worst, removing the entire penis.
For information on further events and to get in touch with SexSoc, visit them at http://www.facebook.com/bsmssexhealthsoc.