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Exploring young people's interpretations of female genital mutilation in the UK using a community-based participatory research approach

Ali, Saadye; de Viggiani, Nick; Abzhaparova, Aida; Salmon, Debra; Gray, Selena

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Saadye Ali

Debra Salmon


BACKGROUND: Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a deeply-rooted cultural practice mainly undertaken in Africa, the Middle East and Asian countries. Evidence to date suggests that although first-generation migrants to the West are abandoning FGM, the custom continues in some places, albeit in small numbers. This study examined how young people living in FGM affected communities in the United Kingdom (UK), interpreted and explained FGM. METHODS: A community-based participatory research (CBPR) approach was used to recruit and train nine young people aged 15-18 as co-researchers. These comprised eight females and one male from second-generation FGM affected communities, living in Bristol. The co-researchers then undertook focus groups and semi-structured interviews with twenty participants aged 13-15 living in Bristol, Cardiff and Milton Keynes. The qualitative data from the training workshops, interviews and focus groups were collected and analysed using thematic analysis. RESULTS: There were conflicting views among participants. Some perceived FGM as a historical tradition that was of very little, if any, relevance to them. In contrast, others perceived that the more archaic, cultural interpretation of FGM, more commonly shared by older generations, had been supplanted by a new form of FGM, which they believed to be a safe procedure, made so by the availability of highly-trained, qualified doctors and better equipment in the UK. Participants spoke of challenges encountered when attempting to raise the issue of FGM with parents. Nevertheless, they acknowledged that- being born and raised in the UK - enabled them to talk openly and to challenge others. CONCLUSION: Future strategies to address and prevent FGM in the UK will require a public health approach that is holistic, intersectional and empowering. Such measures should be relevant to young people born and raised in the UK who interpret FGM differently to previous first-generation migrant relatives and communities. Tackling FGM requires a shift away from a principal preoccupation with harm reduction and criminalisation towards collaboration and active dialogue with communities, in positive and productive ways that acknowledge and engage issues of identity, race, gender, and generation, enabling people affected by FGM to take control of their health and well-being.


Ali, S., de Viggiani, N., Abzhaparova, A., Salmon, D., & Gray, S. (2020). Exploring young people's interpretations of female genital mutilation in the UK using a community-based participatory research approach. BMC Public Health, 20, Article 1132.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 29, 2020
Online Publication Date Jul 20, 2020
Publication Date Jul 20, 2020
Deposit Date Jul 22, 2020
Publicly Available Date Jul 22, 2020
Journal BMC Public Health
Electronic ISSN 1471-2458
Publisher BioMed Central
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 20
Article Number 1132
Keywords Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
Public URL
Additional Information Received: 2 October 2019; Accepted: 29 June 2020; First Online: 20 July 2020; : The Research Ethics Committee of the Faculty of Health and Applied Sciences at the University of the West of England, Bristol, UK granted ethical approval for this research in August 2016 (reference: HAS.16.07.176). Written informed consent to participate was obtained from parents or legal guardians of all co-researchers and participants. The study participants and co-researchers also provided informed consent to participate in this study.; : Not applicable.; : The authors declare that they have no competing interests.


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