What is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)?
Female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as female circumcision or female genital cutting, is defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as "all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons".
The World Health (WHO) classifies FGM into four types:
Type Iinvolves the excision of the prepuce with or without excision of part or all of the clitoris.
Type IIexcision of the prepuce and clitoris together with partial or total excision of the labia minora.
Type IIIexcision of part or all of the external genitalia and stitching or narrowing of the vaginal opening, also known as infibulation. This is the most extreme form and constitutes 15 per cent of all cases. It involves the use of thorns, silk or catgut to stitch the two sides of the vulva. A bridge of scar tissue then forms over the vagina, which leaves only a small opening (from the size of a matchstick head) for the passage of urine and menstrual blood.
Type IVincludes pricking, piercing or incision of the clitoris and/or the labia; stretching of the clitoris and or the labia; cauterisation or burning of the clitoris and surrounding tissues, scraping of the vaginal orifice or cutting (Gishiri cuts) of the vagina and introduction of corrosive substances or herbs into the vagina.
Where is FGM Practised?The majority of cases of FGM are carried out in 28 African countries. In some countries, (e.g. Egypt, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan), prevalence rates can be as high as 98 per cent. In other countries, such as Nigeria, Kenya, Togo and Senegal, the prevalence rates vary between 20 and 50 per cent. It is more accurate however, to view FGM as being practised by specific ethnic groups, rather than by a whole country, as communities practising FGM straddle national boundaries. FGM takes place in parts of the Middle East, i.e. in Yemen, Oman, Iraqi Kurdistan, amongst some Bedouin women in Israel, and was also practised by the Ethiopian Jews, and it is unclear whether they continue with the practice now that they are settled in Israel. FGM is also practised among Bohra Muslim populations in parts of India and Pakistan, and amongst Muslim populations in Malaysia and Indonesia.
As a result of immigration and refugee movements, FGM is now being practiced by ethnic minority populations in other parts of the world, such as USA, Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. FORWARD estimates that as many as 6,500 girls are at risk of FGM within the UK every year.
Consequences of FGM
Depending on the degree of mutilation, FGM can have a number of short-term health implications:
- severe pain and shock
- urine retention
- injury to adjacent tissues
- immediate fatal haemorrhaging
Long-term implications can entail:
- extensive damage of the external reproductive system
- uterus, vaginal and pelvic infections
- cysts and neuromas
- increased risk of Vesico Vaginal Fistula
- complications in pregnancy and child birth
- psychological damage
- sexual dysfunction
- difficulties in menstruation
Justifications of FGMThe roots of FGM are complex and numerous; indeed, it has not been exactly possible to determine when or where the tradition of FGM originated.
The justifications given for the practise are multiple and reflect the ideological and historical situation of the societies in which it has developed. Reasons cited generally relate to tradition, power inequalities and the ensuing compliance of women to the dictates of their communities
- custom and tradition
- religion; in the mistaken belief that it is a religious requirement
- preservation of virginity/chastity
- social acceptance, especially for marriage
- hygiene and cleanliness
- increasing sexual pleasure for the male
- family honour
- A sense of belonging to the group and conversely the fear of social exclusion
- enhancing fertility