A 17-year-old schoolgirl’s campaign to ensure that all schools teach students about the risks of female genital mutilation (FGM) has already amassed more than 100,000 supporters.

Fahma Mohamed’s petition, launched this week, urges education secretary for England Michael Gove to ensure that teachers are trained to deliver lessons on the subject. British schoolgirls who are victims of mutilation are usually taken away to have the procedure done during the summer holidays, often in their country of origin.

Fahma writes: “You wouldn’t think schoolgirls in the UK have to worry about female genital mutilation, but we do…Anyone who knows girls from FGM-affected communities will know girls who have been cut. We were told [schools inspectorate] Ofsted would be asking schools what they are doing to protect these girls from FGM, but it never happened.

“Me and my classmates campaigned for our school to do more on FGM. Now all the girls at school know the risks of FGM and feel able to talk about it. But…we need this to happen at every school in the country.”

The World Health Organisation estimates that 100-140 million girls and women around the world have undergone FGM. The practice has been recorded in 28 African countries, as well as some countries in Asia, the Middle East and South America.

FGM is traditionally carried out by a woman with no medical training. She uses a knife, scissors, or even a razor blade or piece of glass to remove part or all of a girl’s clitoris. Some types of FGM include the removal of the labia that surround the vagina, or the narrowing or sealing of the vaginal opening.

The procedure is usually carried out on girls under the age of 15, many of whom have to be forcibly restrained while it is taking place. Anaesthetics and antiseptics are rarely used. “There are no health benefits to FGM,” the UK’s National Health Service states.

Women whose genitals have been mutilated often find it difficult to urinate. Sex is usually painful, and pregnancy can be dangerous. There is also risk of the wound becoming infected, and of girls being exposed to HIV.

The practice has been illegal in the UK since 1985. However, the NHS estimates that more than 20,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk of FGM each year.

Shortly after Fahma’s campaign was publicised in The Guardian newspaper, Liberal Democrat MPs tabled an early day motion declaring their support. They called on Mr Gove to take action “before the ‘cutting season’ begins once more, during the 2014 school summer holidays”.

So far, ministers have said that they will redraft safeguarding guidance for schools to include advice on dealing with FGM. But John Cameron of children’s charity the NSPCC told TES that the topic should be addressed during personal, social and health education lessons at primary school.

Meanwhile, the first UK prosecution for FGM is expected to take place within a few weeks. Ten additional cases are being investigated in London.

Questions for debate and discussion

1. What is ‘FGM’? Why do certain communities practice it?

2. Many people don’t know about this practice even though it is so widespread. Why might this be?

3. How can we raise awareness in our schools and communities?

4. What can we learn from Fahma Mohamed and her petition?

Relevant resources

Female genital mutilation
This video from NHS Choices introduces female genital mutilation and discusses why FGM is an illegal and unnecessary practice.

FGM mythbusting
This resource allows you to dispel some myths and rumours around FGM so that you can get down to a mature and sensitive class discussion.

 Safeguarding policies
These policy documents will give you a great starting point from which to educate and inform your colleagues and pupils about FGM.

TrueTube investigages
TrueTube brings us a video discussing the historical origins of FGM and the way it impacts society today.

Unicef booklet
This detailed overview of FGM includes case studies and vital information for staff and students alike.

London Safeguarding Children’s Board
This wealth of information from the LSCB will equip you to talk about FGM with your classes.