What is cultural sensitivity or cultural awareness?
When keeping a protective eye out for students with regard to FGM/C, it’s important to remain culturally sensitive and to practice cultural awareness in various scenarios. Cultural sensitivity and awareness exercises an appreciation for another culture’s values and practices.1 Culture is not limited to one’s ethnic background, but also includes other racial and social groups that differ from yours. Educators should not make assumptions about students' cultural practices, and should not assume every student with links to a country that practices FGM, has had or is at risk of FGM.
Why cultural sensitivity is essential when dealing with FGM/C
A qualitative study of a Somali community in the United Kingdom found that FGM-safeguarding practices often translated into stigmatization and traumatizing experiences.2 The community members in the study were committed to ending FGM, but still reported the challenges that came out of the hyper-focus on one’s culture. Key findings from the study included the school setting and noted that if families wanted to take their children on vacation, regardless of whether it was an FGM-impacted area or not, they were more at risk of being referred to social services or mothers were questioned directly about their personal experiences with FGM.2 Additionally, school referrals would lead to home visits by authoritative officials, such as social services or police. The stigmatization was also seen in clinical settings, at the community level, or when traveling. These negative experiences led to feelings of alienation, fear, and trauma. Despite being active in working against FGM, the Somali community in Bristol felt their voices and actions were being ignored.2
This example provides an important lens to look through when practicing FGM/C safeguarding within your school. There is a delicate balance to strike between ensuring you are picking up on risk factors or behavior changes, while also remaining culturally sensitive.
Here are some tips for guiding conversations in a culturally sensitive way:
|Try to understand what beliefs and cultural practices are important to the family. 3||Accuse the parents of committing a crime.|
|Explain to the parents why you are concerned about FGM/C.||Use other family members or other school parents as interpreters. 5|
|Provide a professional interpreter, if needed. 4||Speak to the parents on your own.|
|Limit the number of people in the room, but do have an administrator and social worker present . *||Assume the parents know that FGM/C is illegal.|
|Use a nonjudgmental tone when discussing the health consequences of FGM/C. 5||Decide that following up is unnecessary.|
|Emphasize that FGM/C is illegal in the U.S.|
|Give the parents factsheets on the health consequences of FGM/C and laws banning FGM/C. 3|
* George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health original study, 2018-19.