Responding to female genital mutilation: multi-agency guidance

A framework for agencies and practitioners to develop and agree processes that promote the safety and wellbeing of women and girls.

1. Background

Aims of this guidance

The guidance aims to help with:

  • Identifying whether a girl (including before birth) or young woman may be at risk of FGM.
  • Identifying whether a girl or woman has undergone FGM.
  • Protecting those at risk and responding appropriately to those already affected.
  • Working to prevent and end FGM.

Female genital mutilation ( FGM) is a form of child abuse and violence against women. The complexities associated with FGM, such as why it is done, by whom, and what it signifies, mean that responding well can be challenging.

The guidance sets out how agencies and frontline staff, individually and together, can protect girls and young women from FGM, and respond to survivors in the right way. It describes ‘best practice’ and the main elements of a sensitive and suitable response. The best way to make sure that women and girls are protected and supported, sooner rather than later, is for agencies to work together.

Statutory bodies and strategic partnerships such as local authorities, health boards, Police Scotland, Community Planning Partnerships, and integrated boards should ensure that their member agencies work together effectively to respond to FGM.

Good practice also means working closely with, and directly involving, communities affected by FGM. This includes raising awareness, but also supporting communities to end FGM, for example by taking part in developing policy and designing services.

Who it is for

The guidance is for all areas, services, agencies, organisations, practitioners and individuals [2] responsible for protecting and promoting the health and welfare of women and girls. This includes, but is not limited to, local authorities, Police Scotland, the NHS and third sector organisations which work with girls and women at risk of, or affected by FGM, or which deal with its consequences.

The Scottish Government is committed to preventing and ending all forms of violence against women, as outlined in Equally Safe: Scotland’s strategy for preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls (2016) [3] . This includes working with statutory and third sector agencies and communities to tackle FGM.

This guidance on FGM provides a framework within which agencies and practitioners can develop and agree processes for working collaboratively and individually to promote the safety and wellbeing of women and girls. It highlights the main responsibilities for agencies and individuals, and promotes a clear and consistent approach across all agencies and areas. It supplements other guidance such as the National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland (2014) [4] and agencies’ own policies and procedures on FGM.

Principles of the guidance

The principles of the guidance are:

  • FGM is illegal in Scotland.
  • The safety and welfare of the child is paramount.
  • All agencies must act in the interests and the rights of the child as stated in the UN Convention (1989).
  • FGM is extremely harmful. Women who have experienced FGM should be treated as survivors of gender-based violence and should be treated with respect and compassion.
  • Professional practice means not letting personal fears of being thought ‘racist’ or ‘discriminatory’ compromise the duty to provide effective support and protection.
  • Professional practice means asking questions, whether or not they cause embarrassment. FGM may be a sensitive subject, but it is also a criminal offence.
  • Health, education, police, social work and third sector services must provide accessible, high-quality and sensitive interventions.
  • Competent assessments (as outlined in child protection and adult support and protection guidance) should guide professional decisions and plans. These must be sensitive to ethnicity, culture, gender, religion and sexual orientation. They should not stigmatise or make assumptions about the girl or woman affected, or her community.
  • FGM is a ‘cultural practice’ which, like many traditions, is difficult to shift. Ending FGM means working closely and respectfully with families and communities.


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