What is Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C)?

Diagrams: Four Types of FGM

Diagrams: Three Main Types of FGM

Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. The practice is mostly carried out by traditional circumcisers, who often play other central roles in communities, such as attending childbirths. Increasingly, however, FGM is being performed by health care providers.

FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children. The practice also violates a person’s rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.

Key facts:

  • Female genital mutilation (FGM) includes procedures that intentionally alter or injure female genital organs for non-medical reasons
  • The procedure has no health benefits for girls and women
  • Procedures can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later, potential childbirth complications and newborn deaths
  • An estimated 100 to 140 million girls and women worldwide are currently living with the consequences of FGM
  • It is mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and age 15 years
  • In Africa an estimated 92 million girls from 10 years of age and above have undergone FGM
  • FGM is internationally recognized as a violation of the human rights of girls and women

FGM has no health benefits, and it harms girls and women in many ways. It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and interferes with the natural functions of girls’ and women’s bodies. Immediate complications can include severe pain, shock, haemorrhage (bleeding), tetanus or sepsis (bacterial infection), urine retention, open sores in the genital region and injury to nearby genital tissue.

Long-term consequences:

  • recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections
  • cysts
  • infertility
  • an increased risk of childbirth complications and newborn deaths
  • the need for later surgeries. For example, the FGM procedure that seals or narrows a vaginal opening needs to be cut open later to allow for sexual intercourse and childbirth. Sometimes it is stitched again several times, including after childbirth, hence the woman goes through repeated opening and closing procedures, further increasing and repeated both immediate and long-term risks
female genital mutilation (fgm)

female genital mutilation (fgm)

Procedures are mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and age 15, and occasionally on adult women. In Africa, about three million girls are at risk for FGM annually.

The practice is most common in the western, eastern, and north-eastern regions of Africa, in some countries in Asia and the Middle East, and among certain immigrant communities in North America and Europe.

The causes of female genital mutilation include a mix of cultural, religious and social factors within families and communities.

Cultural, religious and social causes/beliefs:

  • Where FGM is a social convention, the social pressure to conform to what others do and have been doing is a strong motivation to perpetuate the practice
  • FGM is often considered a necessary part of raising a girl properly, and a way to prepare her for adulthood and marriage
  • FGM is often motivated by beliefs about what is considered proper sexual behaviour, linking procedures to premarital virginity and marital fidelity. FGM is in many communities believed to reduce a woman’s libido, and thereby is further believed to help her resist “illicit” sexual acts. When a vaginal opening is covered or narrowed, the fear of pain of opening it, and the fear that this will be found out, is expected to further discourage “illicit” sexual intercourse among women with this type of FGM
  • FGM is associated with cultural ideals of femininity and modesty, which include the notion that girls are “clean” and “beautiful” after removal of body parts that are considered “male” or “unclean”
  • Though no religious scripts prescribe the practice, practitioners often believe the practice has religious support
  • Religious leaders take varying positions with regard to FGM: some promote it, some consider it irrelevant to religion, and others contribute to its elimination
  • Local structures of power and authority, such as community leaders, religious leaders, circumcisers, and even some medical personnel can contribute to upholding the practice
  • In most societies, FGM is considered a cultural tradition, which is often used as an argument for its continuation
  • In some societies, recent adoption of the practice is linked to copying the traditions of neighbouring groups. Sometimes it has started as part of a wider religious or traditional revival movement
  • In some societies, FGM is being practised by new groups when they move into areas where the local population practice FGM

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