Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Brent to tackle violence against women and girls

The Brent Executive and public gallery were hushed last night by a powerful report on 'Tackling Violence against Women and Girls in Brent' presented by Cllr Ann John.

The report, commissioned by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, was written by a cross-party Task Group consisting of Cllrs John, Harrison, Hunter and Kabir, and used a mixture of quantative and qualiative research methods into female genital mutilation (FGM), forced marriage (FM) and honour based violence (HBV).

Cllr John said that the language used to describe these issues had undergone a major change. It was not now seen as a matter of culture and tradition, but of human rights and the violent abuse of children.

Firm statistics are hard to find but those that do exist are likely to be an under estimate so the Task Group recommended a mapping exercise undertaken with partners and specialist charities to find the extent of the practices.

The Harmful Practices Strategy will develop services, improve the quality of recording, provide clear guidance for staff and public on reporting risk and referrals, set up a single point of contact for those affected and set out clear responsibilities for the Children's Safeguarding Board and the Safer Brent Partnership. The Assistant Chief Executive's Department will take overall responsibility.

A programme of community engagement will include awareness raising events, training for key staff from all relevant agencies and joint work with schools and colleges,

John took care to say that the various practices covered many communities including those from Nigeria, Somalia, Egypt, Middle East,Turkey, the Indian Sub-continent and Indonesia.  Very young girls could be 'cut' in FGM and she gave the example of an 11 year old girl of Kurdish Iranian origin who had set fire to herself to avoid forced marriage. She was in hospital for a long time and when she returned home was treated with derision as she had no marriage prospects. She walked out of her village when she was 13 and evetually ended up in the UK. She likes living here because 'nobody stares at me'.  Another girl who was raped as a teenager and forced to marry her rapist, is now free of that marriage in the UK and loves living here because she is safe.

It is important to recognise that groups in the various communities in Brent are challenging these practices as they are also being challenged in  countries of origin:


It was clear that school and college staff had a particular responsibility as they are in direct contact with young girls and may notice changes in behaviour, requests for a long holiday or absences from schools that may indicate a problem. As I said at training I attende don the issue it is also important that schools provide a trusted available adult for chidlren to confide in and space for those discussions to happen. Cllr John commended Islington's PSHE (Personal, Social and Health) curriculum and work going on at the College of North West London.

The report included a copy of Stonebridge Primary School's Safeguarding Policy as an example of a school taking up the issue effectively.

Leader of the Council, Muhammed Butt, who was chairing the meeting turned down a suggestion that the other members of the Task Group be allowed to speak in order to allow Executive contributions.

Executive member  Cllr Choudry said that it was important for communities to take up what was happening in their own ranks and not hide from the problems. Cllr Roxanne Mashari said that the report reinforced her belief that there should a a lead member for women's issues on the Executive to take a strategic view on such matters. She stated that recommendations were not enough, What was needed was an action plan with clear mile stones. There should be tangible actions aimed at schools with a high number of Somali children.

Cllr John said that there was a real awakening among Somali women who were very conscious that change was happening.

Assistant Director Ben Spinks will return with a plan for action in June 2014.

The Executive approved the recommendations.

Readers may find this NHS video on FGM useful: LINK

1 comment:

  1. This is excellent if it translates into action. Statistics are important as a teacher looking at a class containing girls from the vulnerable groups really has no idea what proportion of them, if any, have been or will be affected. In this vacuum, myths arise. 'Respecting culture' inhibits engagement and means that the will and practices of older generations are free to continue their dominance. This can alienate the new generations and, at the same time, sustain their 'otherness' in the eyes of those who have an interest in promoting that idea.
    One last point: don't let those (very few) who will attempt to equate male circumcision with FGM distract you from the welcome new openness on this subject.