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FGM Learning website launched

Photo: Australian College of Midwives' Sarah Stewart
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is estimated to affect more than 125 million girls and women around the globe. A new website provides a platform for Australia’s nurses, midwives and other health professionals caring for those affected by FGM, writes Karen Keast.


The World Health Organisation (WHO) describes female genital mutilation (FGM) as procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

There are no health benefits for girls and women but there are health repercussions.

FGM procedures, which are mostly carried out on young girls between infancy and the age of 15, can cause severe bleeding and problems with urinating, cysts, infections and infertility as well as childbirth complications and an increased risk of newborn deaths.

The procedures, which are recognised as a violation of human rights, mostly affect women in the 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where FGM is concentrated.

It’s estimated around 120,000 migrant women in Australia have undergone the practice in their country of birth but FGM procedures are also believed to be taking place on Australian shores and by Australians overseas.

NSW community services minister Pru Goward this year told ABC Radio there’s anecdotal evidence to show the practice is “more common than the reports would suggest”.

Now, the Australian College of Midwives (ACM) and the Australian College of Nursing (ACN) have joined forces to launch a new website for nurses, midwives and other health professionals who work with women and girls affected by, and at risk, of FGM.

ACM professional officer Sarah Stewart says FGM Learning aims to provide a national site where nurses and midwives can access continuing professional development and learning resources related to FGM.

It also enables health professionals to network with one another, providing a forum where they can share resources and professional supports.

“The professional development area includes resources that we find that have anything to do with educating health professionals about FGM - it could be anything from e-learning capacities that health professionals can access online through to conferences being held,” she says.

“Then we’ve got learning resources that can be accessed at any time - reports or journal articles.

“Every time we come across a journal article that we think will be of use to a nurse or a website that has really good resources for midwives, those sort of artefacts will be linked onto the page.

“The third area is general information and that’s all sorts of artefacts from where you can go and find a certain piece of legislation that would be appropriate right through to fact sheets or posters.”

Ms Stewart says the website brings together a raft of information for health professionals.

“It’s important because there is a lot of concern about FGM and there’s a lot of really good work across Australia being done in all areas, not just in health but in all areas certainly community groups as well,” she says.

“But certainly in health with nursing and midwifery and with medicine, the problem we have in Australia is that people work in silo.

“Not only do we not know what’s going on but we’re not very good at sharing either and there’s no central point where health professionals can go.

“Hopefully this website will bring together all these things that are going on across the country.”

The website, while still in its infancy, is designed to highlight what resources exist and are being developed as well as identifying any areas of need and opportunities for collaboration.

Ms Stewart says the website aims to curate learning resources as part of a wider, health sector collaboration.

“That is something we are particularly proud of - that we’re working across organisations and across state barriers to do something that can facilitate this kind of collaboration is really quite exciting,” she says.

“Also, it’s not a place where people can go to say - I’m caring for this woman, what should I do?

“It’s not that kind of a clinical question and answer site, it’s more about sharing the learning resources so that people can go away and work with them to educate themselves.

“Or they might be wanting to use policies or articles or research in their care or maybe they are setting up a program for women.”

Ms Stewart says FGM Learning aims to provide nurses and midwives with a reliable knowledge source to inform the care they provide to FGM affected women and girls.

The end result is all about improved health outcomes, she says.

“We want to provide the best care we can and even if you only care for one woman with FGM in 10 years - it’s such a personal thing, it can have such a huge impact on women,” she says.

“You want to do the best job you can for that woman.

“There’s the ongoing physical implications, the psychological and spiritual and cultural - it’s not just a quick injection.

“It’s an issue that impacts on every aspect of the woman’s life.”

Health professionals wanting more information or to submit resources can email Ms Stewart at sarah.stewart@midwives.org.au or Kathleen McLaughlin at the Australian College of Nursing on kathleen.mclaughlin@acn.edu.au.

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Karen Keast

Karen Keast is a freelance health journalist who writes news and feature articles for HealthTimes.

Karen regularly writes for some of Australia’s leading health news websites and magazines.  In a media career spanning 20 years, Karen has worked as a senior journalist in newspapers and television. She has covered the grind of daily news and worked as a politics reporter at countless state and federal elections.

Since venturing into freelance writing five years ago, Karen has found her niche in writing about the health sector for editors, businesses and corporations.

Karen has interviewed the heads of peak health organisations in Australia and overseas, and written hundreds of news and feature articles covering the dedicated work of health professionals who tread the corridors of hospitals and health services, universities, aged care facilities and practices, day in and day out.

Follow Karen Keast on Twitter @stylemywords