Viewpoint - Time to stop female genital mutilation

Ruth Broom and Ros Thomas call for an end to the practice of female genital mutilation

Some women and girls who have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM) in their countries of origin have migrated or been displaced by war and hostilities and now live across the globe.

Many of the long-term effects of FGM are within the scope of practice of women’s health physiotherapists and complaints of back or chronic pain may bring women to musculoskeletal therapists.

The International Organization of Physical Therapists in Women’s Health (IOPTWH) is strongly against FGM because of its harmful effects, reflected in the position paper presented to the World Confederation for Physical Therapy (WCPT) in 2007, unanimously endorsed by 108 member countries and subsequently communicated to the World Health Organization (WHO).

At the 2011 WCPT Amsterdam meeting, the IOPTWH presented the results of its international survey, showing that physiotherapists around the world are treating victims of FGM and that there is widespread interest in further research.

The survey indicated the most common reasons for referral are urinary dysfunction, perineal trauma during vaginal delivery, dyspareunia, postnatal urinary dysfunction, chronic pain and vaginismus.

There is evidence for the benefits of physiotherapy for these symptoms, but not specifically for women with FGM.

Of the 18 participating countries, UK physiotherapists treated the most women for the long-term effects of FGM.

Each year, 6 February is the International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM when various non-governmental organisations and world bodies not only condemn the practice, but also report on progress towards it being  abandoned.

In 2011 WHO warned that ‘as a consequence of a focus on the health effects in efforts towards abandonment of the practice, some parents seek healthcare providers willing to perform FGM, mostly within their own communities’.

This year WHO called for greater awareness of the prevalence of FGM due to migration and for healthcare providers to offer appropriate care.

It also profiled the work of a physician in a hospital clinic in Geneva, Switzerland, as part of a multidisciplinary group addressing the needs of affected women and girls.

Ruth Broom, chair of IOPTWH practice committee Ros Thomas, UK member of the IOPTWH committee

For more information, visit the World Health Organisation 

Frontline Staff

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