Comfort: My FGM clinic saves lives, and that drives me to keep going
Dr. Momoh is a Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) public health specialist and campaigner for the abolition of FGM. She is of Nigerian descent and runs her own FGM clinic, The African Well Woman’s Clinic in London. She
Dr. Momoh is a Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) public health specialist and campaigner for the abolition of FGM. She is of Nigerian descent and runs her own FGM clinic, The African Well Woman’s Clinic in London. She was awarded an MBE for services to women’s healthcare in 2008 and continues to help and inspire women worldwide. She is the first FGM specialist to be awarded a Fellowship by the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) in 2016, and is CEO of outreach organisation Global Comfort.
I first heard of FGM back in Nigeria, because I did my general nursing back there before I came here in 1985. While I was training as a general nurse at Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) in 1981, I had lots of friends who spoke to me about FGM. I didn’t have a clue what it was then, my own families never practice it. They didn’t know about it until I started researching it. I remember going home one day and asking my grandmother, “What is this traditional practice that some of my friends are talking about?”
My grandmother was not aware of FGM and she looked at me when I approached her about the subject, thinking, “What are you talking about?”
I was so disappointed because I thought my grandmother was very wise, as you do, and that she had the answers to all the questions- but unfortunately she did not. And that was how I started investigating by myself. I just thought, “No! I needed to find out by myself what this thing was all about.”
Why women still want their daughters to go through FGM
When I came to London, I was so lucky that I was attached to an area called Tottenham, where we have lots of women who have undergone FGM. That increased my interest, so I did some more research and surveys around it. When I was doing my BSc and Masters at King’s College, London, I had the opportunity to perform more comprehensive research comparing attitudes here in the UK to five different African countries. I also explored what drives communities to perform FGM on their girls and women, especially if a woman has been through FGM. She knows the consequences, she knows the impact on her life so why is she subjecting the same to her daughters?
I found it so difficult to understand why women would still want their daughters to go through FGM, despite the fact that they themselves have suffered the consequences. Unfortunately there are so many reasons put forward for FGM. People believe it is their right of passage and do it for a sense of belonging. Some perform FGM for marriagability and they see it as an act of love and a rite of passage to womanhood. FGM has no medical or health benefit.
Running an FGM clinic in London
Here in the UK the numbers or data that we’ve got are according to a survey that was performed by Forward and City University in 2001 and 2014. Foward is one of the leading NGO’s here in the UK. They came up with the figure that 103,000 women and girls who live here in the UK have undergone some form of FGM.
I run a support service, a clinic for women and girls who have been through FGM, at Guys and St. Thomas’s Hospital. My clinic was the second to be setup in the whole of the UK and it was set up in 1997 due to increasing number of women presenting to different departments – like sexual health, gynaecology, family planning, with FGM-related problems. Professionals did not know how to care for these women and girls. We needed an FGM clinic where they could come to seek help and support, and that was how the clinic started.
I provide support for pregnant and non-pregnant women. The pregnant women – obviously we have to identify FGM during pregnancy so that we can support them, provide them with essential information and plan their care for labour and post-delivery. We also give them information about laws here in the UK, and provide surgical intervention such as deinfibulation.
If they have Type-3 FGM (when the inner or outer labia are stitched together leaving a tiny piece for the passage of menstrual flow and urine), we do what we call ‘infibulation’ or we open the closure, so that they can have a safe vaginal delivery. For the non-pregnant women that we see, they come to the clinic because of complications of FGM i.e. vaginal infections, recurrent urinary tract infection or because of sexual intercourse problems. If they have a tiny opening it would be very difficult for proper penetration unless you open them up. We make referrals to other clinics as well. We provide a one-stop clinic, which is unique to my FGM clinic where women can call me and be seen at the clinic the same day for counselling or for deinfibulation.
For women and girls who have undergone FGM: you are not alone
Women who have undergone FGM prefer to be called survivors rather ‘victims’. Women and girls need to be supported; their physical, psychological and emotional wellbeing is very important. The community needs to be empowered and professionals need to know what their roles and responsibilities are in order to safeguard those who might be at risk of FGM.
There are quite a few support services now for survivors of FGM, though concentrated in London. This can be challenging to those living outside London where there are no clinics. We have women’s groups and NGOs: Sarah McCulloch from ACCM, which is based in Bedford; Hawa Sesay who set up the Hawa Trust; and Alimatu Dimonekene who set up Project ACEi.
I have been involved in FGM, human and women‘s rights for over three decades and I strongly believe that if something is your passion, you feel you have a mission in life to make a difference and save lives – why not go for it? This is fulfilling and what really drives me.
You can find out more about support services and treatments available at Comfort’s FGM clinic in Guys and Thomas’s Hospital here. You can also visit Global Comfort’s website here. To buy her book, Female Genital Mutilation, click here.