Refugee influx spurs action on mutilation

Demand for female genital mutilation prevention and support services has ”significantly increased” in Victoria due to a rise in migration and refugee settlement, the Health Minister, David Davis, has warned.

Mr Davis has written to federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek, urging her to match state government funding of $900,000 in 2013-14 for the Family and Reproductive Rights Education Program, to meet growing demand for female circumcision support and prevention services.

”The changing demographic pattern of this settlement requires increased efforts in responding to FGM [female genital mutilation] and providing support to disperse settled communities,” Mr Davis said. He said a cost-share agreement with the Commonwealth would let the program ”significantly increase its reach and effectiveness.”

”I think this issue is a very serious one,” he told The Age.

”There’s obviously a number of cultural sensitivities and we need people who can reach across these cultural divides.”

The extra money would be used to implement a professional training course for health professionals, another dedicated FGM clinic in a public hospital in outer-metropolitan Melbourne, a leadership course for young women and improved data collection.

Jacinta Waters, the acting director of women’s health services at the Royal Women’s Hospital, runs Australia’s first nurse-led deinfibulation clinic, which has repaired the effects of the circumcision of 33 women and seen 90 women for consultations since it opened in 2010. She said there had been an increase in women visiting the clinic in the past six months.

The clinic opens every second Friday and nearly all the clients are from African countries, including Somalia, Ethiopia and Sudan.

About 30 per cent of clients are pregnant and need to be deinfibulated – or opened up – to allow for a natural birth. ”They can have mental health issues, sexual difficulties, urinary concerns, they may require sexual counselling. The procedure is the easy bit, the eliciting of that sensitive information in a cultural sensitive environment is the difficult part.”

Ms Waters said she was not aware of female genital mutilation occurring in Victoria. But she said counselling was provided for parents in the post-natal section of the hospital about the legal restrictions and health impacts of the practice on baby girls.

”We tell them it is illegal in Australia, and it is illegal for your family member to take the baby girl overseas to get it done.”

A spokesman for Ms Plibersek said the Department of Health and Ageing would discuss with the Victorian government ways to collaborate on the delivery of services. He said the federal government had doubled its grants for non-government organisations to tackle FGM to $1 million and the minister would ensure the issue was on the agenda at the next ministerial Standing Council on Health.

”The Commonwealth would welcome additional investment by all states and territories on FGM as a national priority. The usual process to determine Commonwealth and state and Territory cost share arrangements is through joint ministerial discussions.”

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