What is FGM and why does it happen?

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3 February
17:13
3 February
17:21

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) involves the partial or complete removal of external female genitalia for non-medical reasons, thereby interfering with the natural functions of female bodies.

There are various types of FGM. These include a clitoridectomy, which is the partial or total removal of the clitoris, and an excision, which is the removal of the entire clitoris and the cutting of the labia minor. The most extreme form, known as infibulation, involves the removal of all external genitalia and stitching together the two sides of the vulva to leave only a small hole. Other procedures involve pricking, nicking or other ways of damaging the female genitalia.

FGM is usually performed between infancy and 15-years-old, though adult women are occasionally subjected. It has zero health benefits and can have serious lifelong consequences including: chronic infections; cysts; severe pain during urination, menstruation and sexual intercourse; psychological trauma; and increased risk of infertility, labour complications and new-born death. The procedure itself can also be fatal.

"No one knows how many die each year from the procedure"

More than 200 million girls and women around the world today have undergone some form of FGM. In Africa, it is thought that 3 million girls are at risk every year, and 30 million globally are in danger of being cut within the next ten years. No one knows how many die each year from the procedure.

The ritual is generally arranged by women in the family and carried out without anaesthetic by traditional circumcisers using equipment such as a razor, knife or glass, which is unsterilized and may be used on numerous people during a single ritual.

However, medicalisation of FGM is increasing. According to a 2010 World Health Organization study, more than 18 per cent of all girls and women who have been subjected to FGM had the procedure performed on them by a health-care provider.

"Although people may believe it is a religious requirement, it is not mentioned in either the Bible or the Koran"

FGM is found in both Christian and Muslim communities, as well as some indigenous religions. Although people may believe it is a religious requirement, it is not mentioned in either the Bible or the Koran.

Often a precursor to child marriage and rationalized as a rite of passage into womanhood, in reality FGM is a human rights violation and an extreme form of violence used to control female sexuality.

The practise involves a mixture of cultural, social and religious traditions associated with the notion that girls are ‘clean’ and ‘beautiful’ after removal of body parts that are considered ‘male’ or ‘unclean.’ It is closely linked to beliefs about what is considered ‘proper’ female sexual behaviour, and the notion that it reduces a woman's libido leaving her more able to remain faithful in marriage and resist engaging in ‘illicit’ sexual acts.

FGM is prevalent in 30 countries across Africa and the Middle East, with almost universal rates in Djibouti, Eritrea, Egypt, Guinea, Mali, Sierra Leone, Somalia, and Sudan. FGM is also performed in India, Indonesia, and Kurdistan, and there is growing evidence that it occurs in other Asian and Middle Eastern countries previously undocumented.

With increasing movement of peoples across borders, FGM is now found in locations where it was not traditionally practised. In countries such as the UK and the US, girls from some diaspora communities are at risk of ‘vacation cutting’, in which they are taken to their family’s home country during school holidays to undergo the procedure.

In 2012 the U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution on eliminating FGM. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) also calls for its practise as part of SDG 5, which aims to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”, involving the elimination of “all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.”

FGM has been banned by most African nations, as well as Europe and the US, , however, enforcement of the law is often weak and prosecutions rare.

Much work has been done to bring an end to this harmful practise, by governments, grassroots activists, local organisations working directly with communities, international human rights organisations like Equality Now and ActionAid, and coalitions such as The Girl Generation which brings campaigners together.

"Evidence in several countries shows that many men and women believe the practice should end, suggesting a promising window of opportunity for change"

Despite significant challenges, thanks to decades of prevention work, the good news is the number of girls being mutilated is falling. Evidence in several countries shows that many men and women believe the practice should end, suggesting a promising window of opportunity for change. With better global and local collaboration, adequate funding, and the sustained efforts of women’s rights groups, governments, and bold activists including many survivors, the eradication of FGM is achievable.

Today - 6 February - is International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation 

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