The female child oftentimes receives different messages about her body; it is imperfect, too fat or too thin, too dark or too freckled. But for some girls, the message is that to be accepted by the wider community, their bodies must be cut, altered and even reshaped through a practice known as female genital mutilation (FGM).
The term “Female Genital Mutilation” is used by a wide range of women’s health and human rights organizations. It sets a clear distinction from male circumcision.
The use of the word “mutilation” also stresses the gravity of the act and buttresses that the practice is a violation of women’s and girls’ basic human rights.
”FGM refers to all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injuries to the female genital organs for cultural or other non-medical reasons”
FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of the female child. It reveals a deep-rooted imbalance between the sexes and establishes an extreme form of bias against women.
It is nearly always carried out on minors predominately in sub-Saharan Africa and the Arab states.
The practice violates a person’s right 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.
It’s estimated that over 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone FGM. At current rates, an additional estimated 68 million girls face being cut by 2030 in 25 countries where FGM is routinely practiced (very alarming).
This practice is mostly carried out by traditional circumcisers, who often play other central roles in communities, such as attending childbirths. In many settings, health care providers perform FGM due to the belief that the procedure is safer when medicalized.
Related Post: Foods That Stimulates the Female Hormone (Oestrogen)
Who is at risk of Female genital mutilation?
FGM is mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and adolescence, and seldom on adult women. More than 3 million girls are estimated to be at risk for FGM annually.
Classifications of Female genital mutilation
Type 1: Is the partial or total removal of the clitoral glans (the external and visible part of the clitoris, which is a sensitive part of the female genitals), and/or the prepuce/ clitoral hood (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoral glans).
Type 2: this is the partial or total removal of the clitoral glans and the labia minora (the inner folds of the vulva), with or without removal of the labia majora (the outer folds of skin of the vulva).
Type 3: Also known as infibulation, this is the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the labia minora, or labia majora, sometimes through stitching, with or without removal of the clitoral prepuce/clitoral hood and glans (Type I FGM).
Type 4: This includes all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. Pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.
How does FGM affect the health of women and girls?
Consequences of FGM
Immediate consequences of FGM include severe pain and bleeding, shock, difficulty in passing urine, infections, injury to nearby genital tissue and sometimes death. The procedure can result in death through severe bleeding leading to haemorrhagic shock, neurogenic shock as a result of pain and trauma, and overwhelming infection and septicaemia.
Almost all women who have undergone FGM experience pain and bleeding as a consequence of the procedure. The experience itself is traumatic as girls are held down during the procedure. Risk and complications increase with the type of FGM and are more critical and common with infibulations.
The pain inflicted by FGM does not stop with the initial procedure, but often continues as ongoing torture throughout a woman’s life.
In addition to the severe pain during and in the weeks following the cutting, women who have undergone FGM experience various long-term physical, sexual and psychological effects.
Women may experience chronic pain, chronic pelvic infections, development of cysts, abscesses and genital ulcers, excessive scar tissue formation, infection of the reproductive system, decreased sexual enjoyment and psychological consequences, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
Complications may occur in all types of Female genital mutilation
Infibulation, or type III FGM, may cause complete vaginal obstruction resulting in the accumulation of menstrual flow in the vagina and uterus.
Infibulation creates a physical barrier to sexual intercourse and childbirth. An infibulated woman, therefore, has to undergo gradual dilation of the vaginal opening before sexual intercourse can take place.
Often, infibulated women are cut open on the first night of marriage (by the husband or a circumciser) to enable the husband to be intimate with his wife.
At childbirth, many women also have to be cut again because the vaginal opening is too small to allow for the passage of a baby. Infibulation is also linked to menstrual and urination disorders, recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections, fistulae and infertility.
What are the consequences for childbirth?
A recent study found that, compared with women who had not been subjected to FGM, those who had undergone FGM faced a significantly higher risk of requiring a Caesarean section.
Women who have undergone infibulation are more likely to suffer from prolonged and obstructed labour, sometimes resulting in fetal death and obstetric fistula. The infants of mothers who have undergone more extensive forms of FGM are at an increased risk of dying at birth.
Additionally, due to damage to the female sexual organs, sexual intercourse can result in the laceration of tissue, which greatly increases the risk of HIV transmission.
- Strengthening the health sector response: developing and implementing guidelines, tools, training and policy to ensure that health care providers can provide medical care and counselling to girls and women living with FGM and communicate for prevention of the practice;
- Building evidence: generating knowledge about the causes, consequences and costs of the practice, including why health care providers carry out the practice, how to abandon the practice, and how to care for those who have experienced FGM;
- Increasing advocacy: developing publications and advocacy tools for international, regional and local efforts to end FGM, including tools for policymakers and advocates to estimate the health burden of FGM and the potential public health benefits and cost savings of preventing FGM.
In conclusion, the key challenge is not only protecting girls who are currently at risk, but also ensuring that those to be born in the future will be free from the dangers of the practice.
FGM can be abandoned if we collectively say no to FGM. #NoToFGM