A WEST Midlands Police officer has taken on one of the world’s toughest mountain climbs to raise money for a charity supporting survivors of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
DC Gill Squires − the force’s expert on FGM − climbed Kilimanjaro during a trip to Africa where she came face to face with a group of ‘cutters’ who perform the barbaric procedure on young girls.
The trip raised £15,000 for The Divinity Foundation − a charity that runs a rescue centre for girls in Kenya who’ve been cut or are deemed at risk of the procedure.
But it was also an opportunity to educate FGM practitioners and raise awareness of the physical and psychological damage they inflict.
DC Squires is set to share her experiences with police, health and education professionals at an FGM conference in Birmingham next week organised by Birmingham Against Female Genital Mutilation (BAFGM).
The event kick starts a new West Midlands Police campaign − with the slogan “FGM Let’s Talk” − that urges communities to break the taboo over FGM, speak out against the practice, and safeguard vulnerable girls.
She said: “I’ve been involved in tackling and raising awareness of FGM in the West Midlands and on a national level − but I wanted to join the people who are trying to stop it at source and to help vulnerable girls.
“I spoke to 35 cutters – women who perform the procedure.
“It was a very frank discussion about the practice, the awful side effects and impact it has on their lives.
“I think we really struck a chord with them, some regretted cutting girls, asking if they could reverse the procedure, and agreed they wanted their children and grandchildren to be able to enjoy sex and vowed to protect them against FGM.
“They explained why they carry out the procedure − and the main reason was to earn a living.
“They should not be seen as tyrants insisting girls are cut; this is about their culture, it’s what they know.
“We need to educate to stop FGM and the charity is helping to find them alternative work in textiles and agriculture.
“They’d all been cut themselves and were shocked to hear I hadn’t; they were under the impression girls across the globe underwent FGM.
“It was a fantastic experience and I can’t wait to return, to hug the girls in the rescue centre, give them some treats and let them know we care.”
DC Squires − who will be presenting at the International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM event on February 6 − took on the Kilimanjaro climb last October along with five other fundraisers.
Unfortunately she had to abandon her ascent on day four, not far from the summit, after being struck down with altitude sickness − but personally raised £4,500 for the Foundation.
She added: “The trek up seemed never ending but the company and beautiful scenery took my mind off the physical strain.
“Whilst hiking up the mountain we went through several different climates − from hot and humid at the bottom to minus 20 degrees at the summit.
“The hardest part was the altitude and trying to catch your breath; the terrain itself was not difficult but, combined with the reduced oxygen, you quickly became exhausted.
“I felt fine until about 4,500 metres into the climb and just a few hours before the final ascent to the crater.
“I became sleepy and disorientated, had a severe migraine and nausea.
“We’d been told the dangers of ignoring the signs of altitude sickness so reluctantly I had to call it a day.
“It was the right decision despite the disappointment, but I’m pleased we raised so much money for the charity.
“The money will be used to extend the sleeping accommodation and improve the toilet facilities at the rescue centre so they can look after more girls.”
West Midlands Police’s #FGMletstalk campaign will see posters placed at doctors’ surgeries and police stations, while a letter has been sent to all schools urging them to back the push and dedicate awareness raising sessions in the classroom.
Anyone with information on people performing FGM − which is illegal in the UK − or has concerns that a girl is at risk of being subjected to the procedure are urged to call West Midlands Police on the 101 number or contact BAFGM.