Philippa Toogood – religious studies teacher, Downe House School

I first heard about FORWARD when researching FGM for a sixth form class that needed to study an issue of global importance that had both ethical and economic implications. The website was very informative, and it seemed right to ask FORWARD to send a representative to talk to our students about FGM and how it destroys the lives of thousands of women both in the UK and abroad.

Our students have high professional aspirations, and it seemed very important to introduce the issue of FGM to a group that included potential lawyers and doctors, as perhaps they will be able to contribute to making a difference in the future. The head of FORWARD’s youth programme came and spoke with our girls, who found her to be really honest and open. Despite the sensitive subject matter, there was no embarrassment or difficulty, and they thoroughly enjoyed her visit.

The literature presented by FORWARD and the genuine interest shown in getting the students involved was really inspiring. The speaker gave over a significant amount of her time to engage with students, both as a large audience, and in a small group over dinner. We decided to address FGM in class because it is an issue of global importance, and unless it is addressed in schools it will continue to go unnoticed in some sections of society.

I wish that a wider audience understood two key things about FGM. Firstly, that it ruins the lives of women, oppresses them and puts them at risk. If there was greater knowledge, then FGM might be prevented, and also those treating victims of FGM might be better educated about the practice. This is particularly vital in medicine and midwifery.

Secondly, that FGM has nothing to do with religion. This false belief helps to perpetuate the practice, and if this were addressed it could make a major difference to the work being done to prevent FGM. If you are thinking about donating to FORWARD – Do it! Donations can help to save women from FGM and help to raise awareness of an issue that often goes unnoticed in society.