How we wrote about Female Genital Mutilation

November 3, 2016 by No Comments | Category Digital Public Services,

This is a blog post by Harry Dozier, one of our content designers.

This blog post goes into the background behind the Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) article which was recently added to the site. The content team frequently deal with challenging topics – such as where to get help if you are the victim of domestic abuse or how to deal with the death of a partner – and we thought it would be valuable to share some of the care and consideration that goes into this work.


Working with the Equality Unit it took about two weeks to gather the right background material and sources, focus on the issues and write the FGM article. There is a lot of great work being done with communities where this violence occurs, and, from the government perspective, we have a policy saying that it is wrong. But where do we go from there in terms of content for the site?

Most existing sources of information focus on the repercussions of FGM but few have information about what to do if you’re worried it’s going to happen to you or someone you know. The information is out there but the support facilities often come over as being focussed on women who are the victims of this violence. It was clear that our article had to signpost to these services, but also to be as clear as we could about what to do if you think this could happen to you.

A personal view

Because I worked for the National Health Service, the writing I’ve done in the past was advice-led. We helped people understand what they had to do, how to stop it or how to help/support people who’ve been through it. The site isn’t an advice site – we can’t tell people what to do. Instead, we give the facts – a user-centred interpretation of government policy – and we point people to good sources of help and support.

There’s no escaping the fact that FGM is a very personal subject and it was hard to take a unopinionated stance in my writing. Almost all of the literature comes from passionate organisations, so once you start reading that rhetoric it’s hard to break away from that and go back to being neutral. Part of this need to retain neutral wording led me to exclude statistics of occurrences and locations of where this type of violence has occurred. There’s no concrete guide as to who might do this – not everyone in communities where it has been carried out in the past would support that violence and we don’t want to run the risk of creating a bias.

Helping those in real need

It can be difficult writing without any opinion. You almost feel guilty not giving your opinion and not using emotive language on a topic like FGM. But it’s what you have to do. However, knowing that it might help someone who is at risk of this happening to them really helps give you a focus – it gives your job meaning. Our team do have to deal with some grim pieces of research and writing but it can only lead to good. The team are very good at looking at it with the right intentions in mind and understanding the benefits to people.

It’s a great thing to be able to help someone by saving them hours of frustrating research in a potentially threatening situation (especially when the typical victims of FGM are below the age of 15 and so will have lower literacy and are more likely to have limited access to the internet).

Setting aside content

I wish that defence of the rights of the individual could have been added to that article. But it can confuse things when it is much clearer to say that FGM is:

  • illegal in Scotland and the UK
  • never needed for medical reasons; and
  • not approved by any religion

There are answers to questions about the reasons that FGM is enacted; no religious texts support this violence and there are letters from religious communities speaking out against it. Imagine a young girl being told that god or the community think this should happen – they need to know that this isn’t the case in the simplest way possible. Adding extra content around the arguments felt like it complicated the matter.


This topic covers multiple policy areas. The content was fact-checked by two colleagues from the Equalities team, one of whom deals only with FGM and works closely with teams in health and policing. It’s really great that someone is dedicated to looking after policy for this topic. This isn’t the first time that the Scottish Government has provided other great information (especially for communities) but I feel that the content gives comprehensive information laid out for an individual. Our page acts as a hub and people out there can follow the information and get support from multiple sources, not just one.

Next steps

We will edit and improve the content over time but for that we need to hear more feedback on the content – especially from victims of violence, subject-matter experts, charities or support workers. Let us know what you think by giving feedback on the FGM page.

Keep up to date by keeping an eye on our roadmap and following our updates on this blog and on Twitter.


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