The purpose of this study is to report findings from interviews with seven African-heritage women attending a female genital mutilation (FGM) Clinic in the north of England, during the COVID-19 lockdown. The Clinic, established several years before the pandemic, provides specialist therapeutic support to women and girls from minority ethnic communities who are affected by harmful “traditional” practices, including FGM. The services provided by the Clinic include early interventions, peer support, community engagement and empowerment around FGM.
Data was collected during an online focus group discussion with seven women who had received counselling for FGM, to gain insight into their lived experiences of therapeutic support during the pandemic.
Using Braun and Clarke (2006) six-step thematic analysis, four superordinate themes derived from the data: consistency and continuity; safety in shared experience and creativity; feeling heard, feeling stronger; and altruism and desire for change.
It is important to recognise some limitations within this study. It is based on one focus group discussion that involved seven participants, who had experienced FGM, were living in a targeted area and whose mental health had been further compromised by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The findings of this study indicate that it is essential to consider participants’ experiences of receiving therapeutic support during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was observed that emotional stressors linked with participants’ experiences of FGM may be exacerbated by those related to COVID-19.
There is a need to conduct similar research, perhaps on an individual basis, that would reach a wider sample of women from ethnic minority populations who are survivors of FGM, including those from FGM practicing communities who have been hospitalised through their deteriorating mental health. This would add to the small but growing body of evidence, to provide a better understanding of the experiences of their mental health needs during the COVID-19 pandemic and perhaps better identify effective therapeutic interventions.
These themes provide an insight into these women’s experiences of the trauma associated with FGM and receiving mental health support during the pandemic.
Mulongo, P., Khan, R., McAndrew, S. and McKeown, M. (2023), "Female genital mutilation (FGM) trauma and mental health support during the UK lockdown: exploring women’s experiences", Journal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print. https://doi.org/10.1108/JACPR-05-2022-0712
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