What is Female Genital Mutilation
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is any procedure which removes part or all of a girl or woman’s external genitalia for non-medical reasons. It can also be known as female genital cutting or circumcision. FGM can occur anytime from birth onwards, however it is most commonly done to girls when they are between four and ten years old. FGM is often practiced seasonally, so the school holidays are when children are most at risk. FGM is often a cultural norm in the communities where it is practiced. The prevalence and type varies between communities even within the same country. However, not all families in FGM practising communities want their girls and women to undergo FGM. It is also important to note that not all women or girls know that they have had FGM performed on them.
Four Types of FGM
There are four types of FGM depending on how much tissue is cut or removed. Type III FGM is the most extreme version and it carries the most risk for women during childbirth. All types of FGM are a human rights violation and all have been illegal in Ireland since 2012.
Partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce. In medical literature this form of FGM/C is also referred to as ‘clitoridectomy’. A number of practising communities also refer to it as Sunna, which is
Arabic for ‘tradition’ or ‘duty’.
This involves the partial or total removal of the clitoris and labia minora with or without excision of the labia majora. The 2007 WHO definition recognizes that although this form of cutting is more extensive than Type I, there is considerable variability in the form or degree of cutting. In English, this type of cutting is often referred to as ‘excision’, although it is important to note that in French the term ‘excision’ generally refers to all forms of FGM/C.
This involves the narrowing of the vaginal orifice by cutting and bringing together the labia minora and/or the labia majora to create a type of seal with or without excision of the clitoris. In most instances, the cut edges of the labia are stitched together, which is referred to as ‘infibulation’. The adhesion of the labia results in near complete covering of the urethra and the vaginal orifice, which must be reopened for sexual intercourse and childbirth, a procedure known as ‘de-infibulation’. In some instances, this is followed by re-infibulation.
All other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, for example: pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterization. Pricking or nicking involves cutting to draw blood, but no removal of tissue and no permanent alteration of the external genitalia. This is sometimes called ‘symbolic circumcision’, and some communities have described it as a traditional form of FGM/C. Although symbolic circumcision is still highly controversial, it has been proposed as an alternative to more severe forms of cutting in both African and other countries where FGM/C is performed.
FGM Health Consequences
FGM can leave women and girls with many negative health consequences. These can include; infection, bleeding, reduced sensation, increased risk during childbirth, psychological trauma and death. In groups where FGM prevalence is high, certain consequences that are common may be considered ‘normal’ and not associated with the practice.
Short Term Complications
● Infection and failure of the wound to heal
● Injury or trauma to adjoining areas, such as the urethra and anus
● Shock from severe pain and bleeding
● Surgical mishap
● Transmission of HIV and other viruses
Long Term Complications
● Decrease or loss of sexual sensation
● Difficult and complicated childbirth
● Dysmenorrhoea, difficulties in menstruation including passing menses
● Dyspareunia (painful intercourse)
● Incontinence and difficulty urinating
● Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and infertility
● Psychological trauma
● Scarring (with or without keloid formation) and hardening of the vaginal tissue, causing constant pain around the genital area
● Sebaceous cyst development
We work towards the protection of girls at risk and the restoration of dignity of African women and girls affected by FGM. We raise awareness, provide training and inform on policy. We work towards the improvement of access to appropriate services through advocacy and by raising awareness about effects and the impact of FGM and other Harmful Traditional Practices on the lives of women and girls affected by these issues. We support the English Government’s 4 Ps in our FGM approach – Prevention, Protection, Provision of services and Participation. Utulivu understands that FGM is not a single story and is more than cutting – therefore we involve all members of the community: youth, women, men and community and faith leaders from countries across Africa.