What Is Female Genital Mutilation?
Female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM/C) is removing, cutting, piercing, or sewing of all or part of a female’s external genitals for non-medical reasons. At least, 513,000 girls and women in the U.S. have experienced or are at risk of FGM/C, and worldwide, as many as 140 million girls and women alive today have been experienced it. FGM/C has no health benefits and can cause long-term health conditions. FGM/C is currently against the law in the U.S. and many other countries. Although it`s sometimes called “female circumcision,” FGM/C is not the same as male circumcision. FGM/C is common in certain parts of northern and central Africa, the southern Sahara, and some parts of Asia and the Middle East. While some immigrants in Western Europe and the United States send their daughters back to their homeland for FGM/C, others stop practicing it after migrating.
The World Health Organization (WHO) identifies four major types of FGM/C. Let`s take a quick look.
Types of FGM/C
Type 1 FGM/C
Also called clitoridectomy, type 1 FGM/C is the partial or total removal of the clitoris.
Type 2 FGM/C
Type 2 FGM/C entails the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia. The labia are the inner and outer lip-like parts that surround the vagina.
Type 3 FGM/C
Also called infibulation, this involves sewing the labia together to make the vaginal opening smaller. The clitoris is usually left untouched in type 3 FGM/C.
Type 4 FGM/C
Type 4 FGM/C covers all other harm done to the female genitalia outside types 1-3. These include cutting, scraping, pricking, piercing, and burning.
Why Do People Practice FGM/C?
Different cultures and communities have various reasons for practicing FGM/C. Here are common reasons people practice it.
There`s a misconception among communities that the external female genitals are unclean, and as a result, need to be cut off.
Rite of Passage
In some societies, FGM/C is a part of the ritual that a girl goes through before she can be considered a woman. In such societies, a girl may be denied her right to marriage and other things attached to womanhood until she undergoes FGM/C.
14 Health Risks of FGM/C
FGM/C has short and long-term health risks. Here are some of them.
8 Short-Term Health Risks of FGM/C
Cutting sensitive genital tissues and nerve ends can be extremely painful with a traumatic healing period. This period is usually a devastating time for those who undergo FGM/C.
People who undergo FGM/C are usually at risk of contracting infections because the instruments used are sometimes contaminated due to multiple genital mutilation operations with the same instruments. Some of the common infections they have are chronic genital infections, cysts, urinary tract infections, bacterial vaginosis, abscesses genital ulcers, chronic reproductive tract infections, among others.
FGM/C can result in excessive bleeding or hemorrhage in the clitoral artery or any other blood vessel that is cut. This extreme loss of blood is quite dangerous and can lead to death if severe.
Excessive pain, infections, and hemorrhage that girls and women suffer from FGM/C can result in shock, depression, and anxiety.
Genital Tissue Swelling
Inflammatory response and local infection as a result of FGM//C may result in genital tissue swelling.
Impaired Wound Healing
FGM/C can lead to severe wounds which sometimes may take a long time to heal. This causes severe pain, infections, and abnormal scarring.
Urinary retention problems and pain while passing urine may occur due to tissue swelling, pain, or injury to the urethra.
Sadly, death can be sometimes inevitable with FGM/C, owing to the exposure to infections such as tetanus. Excessive blood loss is another common cause of death in FGM/C victims.
6 Long-Term Health Risks of FGM
This is particularly common among women who suffered type 3 FGM/C. The obstruction of the vaginal opening leads to irregular menses, painful menstruation, and difficulty in passing menstrual blood.
Mental Health Challenges
FMG/C victims undergo severe pain and shock and are sometimes subjected to physical force in the course of the mutilation or cutting. Some of them also face a sense of betrayal when they watch their family members organize such a practice and watch them go through it.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus
Cutting genital tissues with the same surgical instrument without sterilization could increase the risk of transmitting the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).
Sexual Health Problems
FGM/C is detrimental to female sexual function as it affects sexual sensitivity, decreases sexual desire and pleasure, causes pain during sex, difficulty with penetration, limited lubrication during intercourse, and reduced frequency or absence of orgasm. Some women also have to deal with the formation of scars, alongside the traumatic memories, and all of these affect their physiological and psychological dispositions to sex.
Obstetric complications are quite common among FGM/C victims. They usually suffer an increased risk of cesarean section, difficult labor, postpartum hemorrhage, recourse to episiotomy, obstetric tears/lacerations, instrumental delivery, and extended maternal hospital stay.
Obstetric complications from FGM/C may result in intrapartum stillbirth and neonatal death. This is particularly saddening because it adds to the trauma of childbirth that affected women go through.
Some Facts About Female Genital Mutilation
- FGM is sometimes called Female Genital Cutting (FGC), Female Circumcision (FC), or excision.
- Many communities that practice FGM use local names such as ‘Tahor’ or ‘Sunna’ (both Arabic) to refer to it.
- Girls between infancy and age 15 comprise the majority of FGM/C victims.
- Some cultures believe that FGM/C guarantees virginity until marriage, suppresses sexual impulses, and reduces the potential for extra-marital affairs.
- The four countries with the highest percentage of female genital mutilation are Djibouti,
- Somalia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, all in Africa.
- The United Nations campaigns against the practice of female genital mutilation and cutting because it believes it`s a violation of human rights.
- The United Nations passed a resolution in December 2012 that officially banned the practice of FGM/C.
- In 1996, the United States passed a law that made female genital mutilation illegal.
- It is illegal to leave the U.S. for the FGM/C procedure.
- FGM is regarded as child abuse and has been a criminal offense in the UK since 1985.
- Over 200 million women and girls the world over are living with the results of FGM/C.
- In the next decade, 30 million females will be at risk of being mutilated.
- In the late 1800s, doctors thought circumcision would cure childhood fevers, brass poisoning, and paralysis. Genital surgery skyrocketed at this time, with many women having their ovaries cut.
- By 1870, a few people began to question female circumcision.
- An increase in hospital births and the widespread impression that circumcision promotes cleanliness contributed to its acceptance in the United States.
- The United Nations set declared February 6 as the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation.
- About 137,000 women and girls in Wales and England and Wales have undergone FGM.
- Despite being illegal in the UK, studies estimate that 24,000 girls are at risk of cutting.
- 6,000 girls are mutilated daily in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.
- “Cutter” midwives in villages are usually trusted with the FGM/C task in local communities.
- People who practice FGM/C in Indonesia and Egypt usually do so in clinics and hospitals.
- In France, 100 people have gone on trial for FGM, with a record of over 30 convictions.