Many people are horrified when they learn about a barbaric practice that it is commonly carried out on female infants and young girls in cultures throughout the Middle East. It is known as female genital mutilation or FGM, a surgery on females’ genitalia or “private parts” that is not medically necessary. In addition, FGM has no health benefits for females and often causes long-term and permanent health problems. According to estimates from health officials, more than three million girls are at risk for having FGM done to them (WHO).
The practice is found most often in the Western, Eastern, and Northeastern regions of Africa, and portions of the Middle East and Asia. Girls will usually be mutilated between birth and 15 years old. In 50% of the countries where FGM is practiced, girls are cut before their fifth birthday (Office on Women’s Health). Most girls are mutilated between the ages of 5 and 14 in other countries (UNICEF). More than 200 million girls and women have been brutally cut, according to UNICEF. FGM is against the law in the United States and has been outlawed in Britain, Canada, France, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland (WHO). Citizens from the countries that immigrate to the United States choose to have their daughters mutilated here or they may send them back home to their native country to have it performed.
The cultures that allow it have differing and complex reasons for practicing FGM. The most common reason is for social acceptability. Families want their daughters to be a part of their community so they make them have FGM. Other reasons are to make sure their daughters remain pure until marriage, to improve the hygiene of their daughters’ genitals, to celebrate the cultural rite of passage into womanhood; to prepare for marriage, and for religious reasons (Womenshealth.gov.).
According to The World Health Organization (WHO), there are four major types of FGM. They include Type 1: a complete removal or a portion of the clitoris, known as a clitoridectomy; Type 2: a total or partial removal of the clitoris and the labia or excision; Type 3: reducing the size of the vaginal opening by stitching the labia together or infibulation; and Type 4: cutting, scraping, pricking, piercing, or burning off skin of the genitalia (Womenshealth.gov). Traditional circumcisers in the community, who may also deliver children, perform female genital mutilation. In addition, healthcare providers sometimes do FGM because they mistakenly believe the procedure is safer in a medical setting.
FGM harms females in both short- and long-term ways. Because the procedures involve removing healthy female genital tissue, it damages the natural functions of girls’ bodies, especially urinary functions. These types of short-term complications are severe pain, extensive bleeding, swelling and injury of the genital area, fever, infections, slow healing, and shock (WHO).
Long-term consequences are urinary tract infections or painful urination; vaginal infections; problems with monthly menstrual cycles; excessive scar tissue; decreased libido and painful intercourse; difficult childbirth delivery, including caesarean section; and newborn deaths; subsequent surgeries due to complications from FGM; depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other psychological problems (WHO). Death often occurs to females who have been mutilated.
For many years, female genital mutilation has been an international concern. In 1997, WHO issued a joint statement condemning FGM with the United Nations Children’s Fund and the United Nations Population Fund (WHO). Since then, efforts continue to mitigate FGM through research, education to communities, and revisions to public policy and legislation. Progress at all levels includes: increased appeals to other countries to end FGM; global monitor-ing bodies that condemn the practice; improved outreach to educate people about the dangers, and growing political support to end female genital mutilation (WHO). If communities themselves decide to abandon FGM, research shows the practice can be eliminated very rapidly (WHO). Officials and concerned citizens from all countries must band together to end this barbaric practice.
- “Female Genital Mutilation.” World Health Organization, 2 Feb. 2017, www.who.int/ mediacentre/factsheets/fs241/en/.
- “Female Genital Cutting.” Womanshealth.org., 24 Apr. 2017, www.womenshealth.gov/publications/ our-publications/fact-sheet/female-genital-cutting.html#.
- “Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A Global Concern.” United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 3 Oct. 2016, www/unicef.org/media/files/FGMC_2016_brochure_final_ UNICEF_ SPREAD.pdf.
- Ferraro, Vinny. “Female Genital Mutilation: History and Facts,” 24 Apr. 2017, www.mtholyoke.edu/~mcbri20s/classweb/worldpolitics/page1.html