Manor Gardens has been looking after women’s health since we were set up in 1913. A recent initiative has sprung out of our advocacy work with newly arrived communities. The women we were working with made us aware of the issues around FGM so we took the lead on a variety of interventions to tackle FGM and support those affected by it.
Through our Tackling FGM Project we’re protecting women and children’s rights by reducing the risk to girls of undergoing genital mutilation in all its forms. Our trained community workers speak a wide range of community languages, allowing us to reach many of the communities affected by FGM.
We host a London-wide FGM Forum to share good practice and resources, join up community work and campaign for national policies to protect young women and girls from FGM. We work together to ensure that
During our work on FGM we have discovered that some women are also survivors of breast ironing or flattening. The practice is said to deter unwanted male attention, sexual harassment, pregnancy, and rape by making young girls look less ‘womanly’ and make them less sexually appealing. Many different variants of this harmful practice exist, though they all involve the alteration of women’s breasts and are usually performed in secret.
Practitioners often use heated stones, spatulas, hammers, belts or binding to compress a young girl's breast tissue. The abuse usually begins at the first signs of puberty and may continue for months or years. Breast Ironing can result in second-degree burns, bruising, tissue rupture, inflammation, infection, fluid retention, inverted nipples, and mastitis. It can often cause extreme pain, swelling, fever, and abscess formation. The impact on women's mental health includes psychological distress, depression, anxiety, intense fear, and shame, among others.
Breast ironing is a violation of human rights and an as yet unrecognised form of gender-based violence, infringing children's and women’s rights to bodily integrity and control over their sexual and reproductive rights. Girls who have undergone breast ironing may show unusual behaviour after an absence from school and fear of changing clothes in public and reluctance to undergo normal medical examinations. Other family members may have undergone breast ironing and this may be an indication that the child is at risk. Improving sex and reproductive health education, counselling, policymaking, and campaigning is crucial to end this harmful practice.
The Dahlia Project is seeking women who have undergone breast ironing to join a new therapeutic group and potentially help us in our campaign. We believe that at least 1,000 girls in the UK between the ages of 9 and 15 are at risk of undergoing the practice, though these estimated figures are likely to be too low.
We put on a wide range of workshops for anyone seeking to find out more and reduce the risks to young women and girls of FGM. Our workshops cover:
We provide specialist training for professionals and students on all aspects of tackling FGM and supporting women affected by FGM. Teachers, social workers and other professionals with regular contact with children are well-placed to safeguard girls from FGM. However, many lack specific training. We work with teachers, social workers, health professionals and anyone responsible for the care of women and girls to provide up-to-date information on the law on FGM, how you can help reduce young women’s risk and where you can refer people if you’re concerned.
If you’re a survivor of FGM you can join our Dahlia Project, where we create safe spaces for you to talk about your experiences, thoughts and feelings about how FGM has affected your life.