Categories
Amazing Stats

What is Female Genital Mutilation

FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION (FGM) is dangerous, with no medical benefits, done to eliminate female enjoyment of sex. It is excruciatingly painful – it should be classified as torture.

  • For millennia, billions of little girls have suffered, without anesthesia, the slicing-off, scarring, stitching and cauterizing of their vulvas. FGM kills 10%+. If she survives, she will have long-term physical, mental, and emotional health problems which hurt both her and her newborn.
  • VICTIMS: 200 m living females + 3 m more per year. Cutting is usually done by age 9.

“I am now a dead person,” said Malika, a young mother from Ethiopia’s Afar region, after recounting the pain and trauma she suffered when she was first cut, then on her wedding night, and again when she gave birth.

UNFPA

FGM – TORTURE AND A VIOLATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS

FGM means that someone – often a girl’s mother or female relatives – cuts-off or damages parts of her external genitalia, generally with no anesthetic, under unsanitary conditions (the knife may be rusty and used repeatedly on multiple girls lined-up for the procedure, without being cleaned, passing on diseases such as HIV), with no medical care available.  It is usually performed on a girl under the age of 9 – that is without consent, and when she cannot even understand what the process means. She is held-down by family members, a rag stuffed into her mouth to stop the screaming, since the procedure is excruciatingly painful. It takes weeks before the girl can even walk again – if she survives.  Often the girls bleed to death or later die of infection – with a death rate estimated higher than 10%. 

FGM causes serious life-long health problems, including life-threatening childbirth complications and death.  The pain inflicted by FGM does not stop after the procedure – it continues as unending agony for the girl’s entire life.

FGM is most often performed by traditional cutters using knives, scissors, scalpels, pieces of glass or razor blades.  They usually lack medical training and know nothing of sterilization or antiseptics, or how to assist a girl who is bleeding to death or has contracted a life-threatening infection.  Indeed, the way they deal with a girl’s death is to blame her – she must have been a witch or in league with the devil, and thus deserved her fate.

In come countries, FGM may be done by a medical professional – completely contrary to the Hippocratic Oath and to medical ethics and morals.

4 TYPES OF FGM:

  • Clitorodectomy (FGM 1) – partial or total removal of her clitoris / the hood covering it.
  • Excision (FGM 2) – partial or total removal of her clitoris / hood and the inner and/or outer lips around it.
  • Infibulation (FGM 3) – Sealing her vagina by cutting-off parts of her vulva and closing it using stitches / scraping the remaining tissues to glue them together with her blood. Her legs are then tied with rope, leaving her unable to move for 15 to 40 days while the wound heals or she dies from infection and/or blood loss. 

    Infibulation is designed to prevent a girl from having sex, as only a tiny hole is left so she may urinate and her blood may trickle out at menstruation.  Her vulva is reopened by her husband on the wedding day – either with his penis, or if that is not effective, with a knife, so that he can have sex with her. At birth, women must be cut again because the opening of the vagina is too small for the passage of the baby. Opening her vulva by cutting her again is called defibulation.  Often her vulva is resealed between births – this is known as reinfibulation.
     
  • Other (FGM 4) – all other damage for non-medical reasons (e.g., pricking, piercing, incising, scraping, and cauterizing).

FGM causes a girl to experience a lifetime of serious health problems and chronic pain.

Medical effects include:

  • Death, excruciating pain, shock, tetanus and other infections, scarring, cysts, abscesses, fistulas, ulcers, and other tissue damage, urinary / pelvic infections and disorders, incontinence, discharges, itching, bacterial vaginosis, chronic pain, menstrual problems, as well as that menstrual blood can’t drain properly, depression, anxiety, memory loss, sleep disorders, PTSD, sexual dysfunction and dyspareunia (painful sexual intercourse), greater risk of HIV and increased susceptibility to other types of infections, and the risks associated with later surgery (defibulation and reinfibulation).

  • Infertility and adverse obstetric outcomes: stillbirth, prolonged and obstructed labor, episiotomy, caesarean section, postpartum hemorrhage, need for extended aftercare, death of the mother / newborn. The infants of mothers who had undergone FGM, especially the more extensive types of FGM 2 and FGM 3, have a greater risk of dying at birth compared to the infants of mothers who had not undergone FGM. Those who have been cut have a greater risk of infertility and they are 2x as likely to die in childbirth. (https://www.dw.com/en/female-genital-mutilation-why-do-so-many-girls-still-face-fgm-a-52265630/a-52265630).  One study found that about 22% of perinatal deaths in infants born to women with FGM can be attributed to the FGM. FGM is estimated to lead to 1 to 2 extra infant deaths per 100 deliveries. (https://www.endfgm.eu/female-genital-mutilation/what-is-fgm/)
     
  • With infibulation (FGM 3), where the labia are cut and sealed together to narrow the vaginal opening, women have to be cut again to enable sexual intercourse and childbirth causing additional trauma and pain, while exposing her health to further risk. Infibulated women face the highest danger of serious childbirth complications that can take the life of both the mother and the newborn.
     

SOURCES OF FGM AND ITS MEDICALIZATION:

FGM originated in, and is extensively practiced in, Africa and the Middle East. (Refer to map: By Johnuniq – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47697106).

Johnuniq, Wikicommons

It is also practiced in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka.

Communities which practice FGM rationalize the torture of their children as necessary for social acceptance – contrary to biological reality, they maintain that a girl isn’t a woman and can’t be married until she has undergone the cut.  

It should be noted that there is NO religious obligation to cut girls – none of the holy books used in these areas provides any support for the practice.  It is purely cultural – just like cannibalism once was.  As such, like cannibalism, it can be eliminated by using education to change values.

Sadly, the hardest battle may be with the women of these communities, the majority of whom support some form of cutting, according to the UN.

“Somehow the messaging and the awareness raising is getting through but still, they want to cut, still, they want to touch the girl,” said [Doctor Mariam] Dahir. “This is exactly a patriarchal community – they don’t want the girl to live the way that she is.”

DW

With the dispersion of peoples from these regions to other areas of the world, FGM is now being practised globally.  This is a very disturbing trend, which has been made more worrisome by what is called “the medicalization” of the procedure.  This means FGM is performed by health practitioners – community health workers, midwives, nurses or doctors – contrary to the Hippocratic Oath and to medical ethics and morals.

It may even be offered to new parents as part of a standard package of care for newborn girls. 

The fact that it is done by a medical worker does NOT mean it is done under anesthesia, or with the proper sanitary and medical care in place.  Nor does it alter the fact that the procedure has NO MEDICAL BENEFITS and condemns that girl to a life of chronic pain and ill-health, as well as endangering her life and the lives of her children. Furthermore, a huge percentage of girls are still dying because of the procedure, even when performed by a health worker.    

UNFPA estimates that one in five girls subjected to FGM were cut by trained health care providers, and in some countries, it’s more than three in four.

Western countries are now lifting the licenses, and imprisoning, medical workers who engage in this practice, which is torture and a violation not only of ethics and morals, but of a girl’s human rights.

In many countries FGM is now illegal – but that has not stopped the procedure from being performed.


What countries is female circumcision illegal?

Criminal Legislation/Decree (year enacted)

  • African Nations:
  • Benin (2003)
  • Burkina Faso (1996)
  • Central African Republic (1966)
  • Chad (2003)
  • Côte d’Ivoire (1998)
  • Djibouti (1994)
  • Egypt (2008)
  • Eritrea (2007)
  • Ethiopia (2004)
  • Ghana (1994)
  • Guinea (1965, 2000)
  • Kenya (2001)
  • Mauritania (2005)
  • Niger (2003)
  • Senegal (1999)
  • South Africa (2005)
  • Tanzania (1998)
  • Togo (1998)
  • Nigeria (2015)

Industrialized Nations:

  • Australia (6 of 8 states, 1994-97)
  • Belgium (2000)
  • Canada (1997)
  • Cyprus (2003)
  • Denmark (2003)
  • Italy (2005)
  • New Zealand (1995)
  • Norway (1995)
  • Spain (2003)
  • Sweden (1982, 1998)
  • United Kingdom (1985)
  • United States (Federal law, 1996; 17 of 50 states, 1994-2006)

(source)

One of the key reasons for FGM is that it confers perfect male control over female sexuality:

  • Girls who survive the procedure usually do not return to school. Now women, they are quickly married off to men who often have several other wives already.
    • She cannot experience genital pleasure and the pain of sex is so overwhelming she avoids it.
    • With FGM 3 a woman is repeatedly traumatized and abused – she is cut as a child, for sex, and for birth. Her vulva may be resealed b/w children.

“How could women do something like that to one another, how?” she asks, her eyes welling up with tears. “Being circumcised is like living in a dead body.”

DW

Women cooperated in this patriarchal barbarism, inflicting it on daughters because it was the way for her to belong and get a husband.

  • Mothers forcibly restrain daughters, stuffing a rag in her mouth to stop screaming as she is cut, then tying her legs for 15-40 days, leaving her unable to move as she heals.

What rationalizations are used for FGM? Many of those who support FGM believe it to be a religious obligation. Traditionalists see it as necessary to becoming a woman and a procedure which ensures cleanliness or better marriage prospects. Another reason cited is that FGM prevents promiscuity and excessive clitoral growth, preserves virginity, and enhances male sexuality.

It is critical to emphasize that female circumcision does not have the support of any religion’s holy books and that it does not confer any benefits claimed, while seriously undermining the health of girls, their offspring, and even, as discussed below, their husbands. 

Finally, another key reason for acceptance of FGM is that males fetishize a mutilated vulva:

  • A “real man” breaks open the stitches / scars on the wedding night by ramming his penis into her. If that is unsuccessful, he takes a knife to her vulva.
  • The myth is it increases his sexual pleasure by penetrating her scarred, damaged, and bleeding flesh.

The reality: FGM is rationalized as being about cleanliness and womanhood. In reality, it stops a woman from experiencing sexual pleasure, meaning she is unlikely to want sexual activity, keeping her chaste, even after marriage. And the fact that the medical effects include abscesses, fistulas, ulcers, and other tissue damage, urinary / pelvic infections and disorders, incontinence, and discharges, as well as that menstrual blood can’t drain properly, means that this procedure not only creates “uncleanliness”, but puts her husband at risk of contracting infection every time he has sex with her. Painful sex, combined with difficulty of penetration and decreased lubrication, means that her husband will be unlikely to enjoy a satisfying sex life. Psychological effects, including PTSD and anxiety, mean that both he and his children will suffer along with the wife.
 

FURTHER MATERIALS:

Around the world, over 200 million females are living with the consequences of FGM. And that number is growing by 3 m per year due to the lack of awareness surrounding it and the secrecy with which FGM is practiced.

We need to end FGM by speaking-out about it and raising awareness about the reality of this gruesome practice, tackling the pervasive gender discrimination and cultural ignorance that allows FGM to be practiced.  FGM is a global human rights concern – it requires the attention of everybody to protect and save millions of women and girls.

With FGM, one is forced to wonder if there is no limit on the torture that society will inflict on little girls?

Imagine the pain, the trauma and the lasting consequences to a girl’s health and well-being, to her offspring and to her family. 

FGM violates the human rights of women and girls. 

No one should have to live through this type of torture for any reason.

Share this in your story to spread awareness about this unspeakable violation of the rights, health, and dignity of women worldwide. Together we can make a difference and contribute to the UN’s goal of ending FGM by 2030.

Photo Credits