Gendered and Racialised Epistemological Injustice in FGM-safeguarding

Published date01 June 2024
AuthorNatasha Carver,Saffron Karlsen,Magda Mogilnicka,Christina Pantazis
Date01 June 2024
Subject MatterArticles
Gendered and Racialised
Epistemological Injustice
in FGM-safeguarding
Natasha Carver
School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol,
Bristol, UK
Saffron Karlsen
School of Sociology, Politics and International
Studies, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK
Magda Mogilnicka
School of Sociology, Politics and International
Studies, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK
Christina Pantazis
School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol,
Bristol, UK
This paper explores FGM-safeguarding in the UK through a decolonial lens. Based on an
analysis of the development of law and policy relating to Female Genital Mutilationin
the UK alongside data collected in focus groups with people of ethnic Somali heritage
living in Bristol, we argue that the current legislation and policies, as well as their deliv-
ery, are steeped in colonial Othering. We demonstrate that legislative and policy
approaches operate through a gendered and generational binary in which non-White
mothers are othered as migrants (regardless of citizenship status) for whom anachronistic
culture is deemed determinative, whilst their daughters are claimed as British. In this
Corresponding author:
Natasha Carver, International Criminology, School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol, 8 Priory Road,
Bristol BS8 1TZ, UK.
Social & Legal Studies
2024, Vol. 33(3) 351374
© The Author(s) 2023
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/09646639231189813
construction, FGMoperates as the symbolic marker that designates un/belonging: the
uncircumcised girl is rescuable and claimed as one of us, whilst the circumcised mother
is considered a mutilated political subject for whom belonging is foreclosed.
Coloniality, decolonial, gender, FGM, safeguarding, migrant, Somali
This paper explores FGM-safeguarding
in the UK through a decolonial lens. In a climate
in which sharp distinctions have been drawn between EU citizens and non-EU migrants
constructed largely through contrasting representations of gender relations (Akkerman,
2015; Brubaker, 2017), FGMhas been presented in political debates as the axiomatic
example of the so-called patriarchal and unacceptable cultural practices(Goodman,
2010) that migrants bring with them. Abolition campaigning has become a cause
celebre which has united far-right activists, human rights organisations, feminists, politi-
cians across political divides and many survivors themselves.
On the back of this cam-
paigning, in 2015, the UK government introduced a series of legislative changes and
policy initiatives designed to prevent and eliminate FGM. Amending and building on
past legislation, these changes introduced mandatory reporting with criminal conse-
quences and designated it the duty and responsibility of teachers, health practitioners,
social workers and police to educate, record, report and investigate families at-risk,a
category which included any girl whose mother had undergone FC/FGM. Families tar-
geted for intervention were those with ethnic heritage in countries with high prevalence
rates of FC/FGM.
In 2018, a group called Somali Parents Against Stigmatisation (SPAS) contacted the
University of Bristol to ask for research to be undertaken into FGM-safeguarding. The
authors of this paper responded to this request and met with representatives of the organ-
isation who explained that they were experiencing FGM-safeguarding as stigmatising and
racist. They told us that they had complained to the City Council, sought to get traction
with the press, and were preparing a play on the topic. Despite these efforts, they felt that
their voices remained unheard or were actively being ignored. They wanted us, as aca-
demics, to put our weight behind their words and use our positions of privilege to lend
legitimacy to their concerns. The series of meetings that followed were intense, emotional
and often challenging. Their outrage was tangible and their experiences shocking. Some
initially saw our comments about a need for impartiality, ethics and rigour, as part of the
same silencing mechanisms they had experienced elsewhere in the city. Collectively, they
were pragmatic about the classed and racialised operation of power, and not infrequently,
had to negotiate gendered imbalances within their own campaign group.
Following this research experience, this paper explores FGM-safeguarding law and
policy in the UK through a decolonial lens, an approach which often takes the form of
historicising, deconstructing and talking back(Tuhiwai Smith, 2021) all of which
are tactics employed herein. In the f‌irst section of the paper, we historicise and
352 Social & Legal Studies 33(3)

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