FGM is rarely spoken about, heard about or known about. But why is this the case when it affects over 200 million women and girls? How can we have gender inequality when 200 million women and girls are violated every single day through the practices of FGM?
So what is it?
FGM stands for female genital mutilation. It’s the intentional harm, alteration and/or injury to the female genitals. Globally, over 200 million women and girls have been cut with many more at risk. FGM is a violation of human rights for girls and women. In countries where antibiotics are not readily available, like Sudan, 1 in 3 girls will die. But this isn’t just an overseas issue, in the UK, it’s estimated that FGM will affect 20,000 girls, even though it’s illegal.
WHO have identified 4 main types of FGM:
Type I – Clitoridectomy
This which sees partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce.
Type II – Excision
Partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora. The amount of tissue removed varies from community to community.
Type III – Infibulation
The narrowing of the vaginal orifice with a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and re-positioning the labia minora and/ or the labia majora. Can take place with or without the removal of the clitoris.
All other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes.
Why is it performed?
FGM is a manifestation of deeply entrenched gender inequality. It is mainly practiced in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, but affects girls worldwide, including here in the UK. It’s supported and practiced by both men and women, with the common belief being that the cultural and social benefits outweigh the risk and dangers. (WHO 2008).
The reasons given for practicing FGM generally fall into four categories:
Psychosexual reasons: FGM is carried out to control women’s sexuality, which is sometimes completely affected leaving women feeling no sense of pleasure depending on the cut. It is thought to ensure virginity before marriage and fidelity afterward, and to increase male sexual pleasure.
Sociological and cultural reasons: In some communities, FGM is a part of a girl’s initiation into womanhood, it’s a huge part of tradition. The myths that an uncut clitoris will grow to the size of a penis, or will increase fertility, help promote the practice.
Hygiene and aesthetic reasons: In some communities, the external female genitalia are considered dirty and ugly and are removed, ostensibly to promote hygiene and aesthetic appeal.
Socio-economic factors: In many communities, FGM is a requirement for marriage. Where women are largely dependent on men, economic necessity can be a major driver of the procedure. It’s also a major income source for the ‘cutters’.
Why is FGM different to circumcision for boys?
For women and girls there are immediate and lifelong complications. Immediate complications include:
– Severe pain, shock, haemorrhage, tetanus or infection, urine retention, wound infection, urinary infection, and septicaemia. The haemorrhage and infections can be severe enough to cause death.
Long-term consequences include:
– As well as medical complications such as anaemia, the formation of cysts and abscesses, keloid scar formation, damage to the urethra resulting in urinary incontinence, sexual dysfunction, and complications during childbirth, FGM has severe psychological effects.
Type III (infibulation) creates a physical barrier which makes sexual intercourse, childbirth, menstruation and even urinating difficult. Women are often cut open for sex and childbirth because there’s simply no space for anything to come in or out.
The procedure and effects of FGM are extremely harmful and severe. The hidden practice effects girls worldwide and is not spoken about enough. As well as protecting and supporting the survivors of FGM, we need to be raising awareness and providing the knowledge that FGM is wrong, dangerous and fatal.
You can do your bit here:
– Look at Aida Silvestri’s ‘Unsterile Clinic. A project to help raise awareness of the practice of FGM.
– Watch Call The Midwife (Season 6, Episode 6).
– Read Cut: One Woman’s Fight Against FGM in Britain Today by Hibo Wardere
– Sign a petition;
Learn more at
This topic is tough but thank you for wanting to read and learn more. It makes a difference.
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