WOMEN in Southampton will be involved in first UK study to collect in-depth data on female genital mutilation (FGM) and its effects on young girls and women.

The research is being conducted by the University of Portsmouth to identify if girls in the Hampshire cities of Portsmouth and Southampton are vulnerable to FGM and will explore the impact of this practice on the lives of women who have undergone the procedure.

Sometimes called female circumcision, FGM involves the removal by force of all or part of the female genitalia.

The findings will be used to generate policy and intervention recommendations and to help develop the current training on FGM for key professionals including the police, council, midwifery service and NGOs.

It is believed that in Hampshire, Sudanese and Somalian communities are two groups particularly affected by the practice, but it is also prevalent in many more.

Dr Tamsin Bradley from the University of Portsmouth said: “There is shocking ignorance about female genital mutilation in the UK which is why we need to gather this vital data. FGM has been a cultural practice for generations in certain countries and is associated with family honour, but it is a form of child abuse which needs to be eradicated.''

Television personality Sandi Toksvig has given her support to the study.

Ms Toksvig, who is also chancellor of the University of Portsmouth and also presents The News Quiz on BBC Radio 4, condemned the practice of FGM.

The broadcaster, who is an ambassador for the Rosa Trust, a charitable fund set up to support initiatives that benefit women and girls in the UK and which is funding the research, said: ''It's an inhumane practice which continues to blight the lives of millions so I am proud that the university is working in partnership with Rosa, Southern Domestic Abuse Service and the African Women's Forum to expose the practice and protect girls from being mutilated.''

Recent figures suggest that more than 24,000 girls and women in the UK are at high risk or may have already undergone FGM.