Getting started

Delivering the program

The program should be facilitated by a bilingual worker with experience or knowledge of the community, or who comes from the specific community where FGM/C is practiced. The program could also be co-facilitated with peer educators and bilingual workers. Peer educators can provide a sense of safety to participants and inspire participants to become future peer educators themselves.

The importance of cultural sensitivity

To provide a culturally and emotionally safe and supportive environment for all, it is important to note that some participants might find the content covered in some sessions confronting. Participants might have ideas about the extent to which they should know, talk about, or engage in sexual activity and intimate relationships. Some might have also been impacted by FGM/C.

‘Female genital mutilation’ is the term preferred by the World Health Organization and the United Nations, and is used throughout Australian and Victorian legislation. Use of the word ‘mutilation’ aims to reinforce the gravity and harm caused by the practice and reiterate that it is a gender-based, human rights violation. However, the World Health Organization, in line with best practice community development approaches, maintains that women will more effectively engage with health promotion programs that use terms such as ‘female circumcision’ or ‘traditional cutting’. Throughout this manual, the term ‘female genital mutilation/cutting’ is used to acknowledge the importance of both viewpoints. Using culturally appropriate language is essential to build trust and respect with young women. Hence, we recommend that when delivering sessions, facilitators only use the terms ‘female circumcision’ or ‘traditional cutting.’ The program does not intend to challenge students’ cultural, religious or family beliefs; it aims to provide participants with information to empower their decision-making and with an opportunity to engage in positive learning and build their confidence. Participants are encouraged to discuss the project material within their cultural context. Facilitators can support this by asking questions such as:

  • What have you been taught about pregnancy, birthing and parenting?
  • Does your family discuss menstruation?
  • What is the word for puberty in your language?
  • Have you been taught about protecting yourself against sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?

Working with interpreters

Upon expression of interest, young women are asked if they would like access to an interpreter for the duration of the program.  Providing access to interpreters for the duration of the project enables participants to learn and feel supported in their first language, especially if they are newly arrived to Australia. Given that topics such as FGM/C, sexuality and respectful relationships might present as culturally challenging for some interpreters, it is essential that interpreters are briefed about project content prior to commencing in this role. The briefing should also clarify their role and responsibility of only interpreting the material being presented and refrain from communicating their personal views and beliefs to participants. It is recommended that this information be provided to interpreters in a written format.

It is essential that interpreters are female and are from communities where FGM/C is practiced as this enables the interpreter to relate to the participants, and it is likely that they will be more knowledgeable about the impact of FGM/C within their communities.

Consistency of interpreters throughout the project is also important. When booking interpreters, it is important to explain that the project requires the same interpreters for the entire program. Employing young female interpreters has proven to be the most effective in conveying accurate sexuality and sexual health information to young female participants. It is important to communicate these preferences to interpreting service providers. These considerations contribute to creating a safe and supportive environment. Debriefing the interpreters might be required and this is the responsibility of the interpreting service provider.