End female genital mutilation

// 6 February 2013

Tags: , , , ,

 Today (6 February) is the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation. The WHO defines FGM as “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons”. It estimates that 140 million girls and women worldwide are affected by the practice, the majority in 28 African countries, and around 500,000 in Europe. Three million girls are at risk every year, including approximately 20,000 in the UK.

FGM, or FGC (female genital cutting), is a human rights abuse and a form of gender-based violence and oppression. FGM can lead to fatal bleeding, recurrent urinary and vaginal infections, severely painful menstruation, cysts, infertility and problems having sex. Women who have undergone FGM are twice as likely to die during childbirth and more likely to give birth to a stillborn baby. It has also been shown to negatively impact women’s socio-economic opportunities, as it is linked to girls dropping out of school at a young age, and studies point to a range of psychological impacts, including anxiety and depression.

FGM is performed in different cultures for a variety of reasons, related to beliefs around beauty, gender roles, health, purity, religion, sex and morality. I very much recommend Alice Walker’s Possessing the Secret of Joy, which – while a work of fiction – is a powerful illustration of how the practice is used to control women’s sexuality, limit their role within society and subjugate them to men.

UK charity the Orchid Project and its partner Tostan use the term “female genital cutting” rather than “female genital mutilation”, and their explanation for this choice highlights the social pressures that lead to the practice being perpetuated – often by women who have undergone it themselves:

It seems counter-intuitive, but in our experience, if there is a dominant emotion involved in FGC, it is love–because not cutting your daughter risks her entire future. As explained by a former cutter turned Tostan advocate, Oureye Sall, in communities where FGC is practiced, community members will not eat food cooked by a woman who is not cut, will not accept water from her, will not even sit with her. She will have difficulty getting married. An uncut woman is viewed as unclean and therefore unable to participate fully in the community. With these social pressures, if a family chooses not to cut their daughter, they have risked severely damaging her social status. To imply that parents are actually “mutilating” their daughters through a decision made with love and concern for her well-being is unfair to them and risks alienating and offending them rather than convincing them to abandon the practice.

In the UK, FGM has been against the law since 2004. Forward, an African Diaspora women’s campaign and support charity, has information on what to do if you suspect a UK girl is at risk of FGM. Daughters of Eve, a non-profit working to “advance and protect the physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health rights of young people from female genital mutilation practising communities” also offer advice and support on the issue.

The UN aims to see female genital mutilation/cutting end “within a generation”; it can’t come soon enough.

Photo of an orange and black butterfly against a bright blue sky by rhett maxwell, shared under a Creative Commons licence.

Comments From You

yesi // Posted 1 October 2013 at 5:00 am

The thought of horrific tradition that many cultures carry out makes me cringe. Not only would the physical pain be unbearable but the emotional pain would be just as horrible to endure as well. I would hate to not have the option to choose whether or not I would like to get this done to myself, especially if I was tricked into going to get it done. In many cases young girls are taking to locations where cutting/mutilation are performed under false pretenses. They think they are just going out with their mothers somewhere as usual and the next thing they know they are being thrown into an uncomfortable situation that can scar them for life. It angered me to read how these parents actually feel that individuals should not judge them for making this decision in order to look out for their daughters social standing. Me personally, I would like to be able to make that decision for myself. I would rather decide to do it on my own in order to avoid being alienated socially for not being cut. But the fact that society in these cultures would really look down on a girl that was not cute is horrible. Not eating their food, drinking their water, marrying them, or even just sitting near them because of the fact that they believe they are dirty for not being cut is ridiculous to me. I can only imagine the psychological damage either decision, being cut or not being cut, would have on these young girls. Either way they risk being emotionally scarred in one way or another. I am glad I never have to worry about being put through that horrific experience but at the same time I feel horrible for the young girls that have and continue to have to endure this painful experience. I am glad to hear that some progress has been made in banning this practice in different countries, and will hopefully will continue until we never have to worry about this horrible practice being performed again.

katie333 // Posted 1 October 2013 at 6:21 am

I am a college student taking a Violence Against Women class and this article definitely caught my attention. This article says that 3 million girls are at risk of female genital mutilation every year. In fact, in one of my books I read that 3 million girls are cut every year in Africa ALONE. In addition to some of the negative consequences that you listed, some more include going into shock from the pain, phobias, post traumatic stress disorders, and terrifying flashbacks during sexual intercourse or doctor examinations. We also learned about Tostan in my class, the organization led by Molly Melching to end FGM through education and encouraging discussion. This article also caught my attention because it is increasing awareness of this harmful practice. Tostan and other activist groups are working very hard to raise awareness and end female genital mutilation as soon as possible.

Nikki Roble // Posted 15 October 2013 at 3:16 am

I am glad that there is a day to spread awareness of FGM. This is a serious matter that many people need to be aware of in order to end this procedure. If people know about the serious physical and emotional pain that these women go through, I believe that they would also want to take part in the fight to end this. Because FGM is part of religion and culture, it may be hard to end this procedure. It may be tough to end it but if we educate the girls at an early age, they can be the difference and start the new generation without FGM. It all starts with education. When people are informed, they understand what is really happening and will stir their thoughts. Educating the young girls can persude them to go against FGM and make a change. Educating all men, women, and children who do not take part in this practice can also be benficial as they can be leaders and take action as well. Educating each other and working together can help make a postive change.

Amber // Posted 27 February 2014 at 6:39 pm

The idea of Female Genital Cutting never crossed my mine before enrolling in my university class , Violence Against Women. I had no idea what it was, why there was a problem, or the history behind FGM. To my disbelief when I brought up the idea to my best friend whose family is from Eritrea, she had personal experiences t o share on this topic . From watching videos in class, to reading “Half The Sky”, i rapidly caught on to the problem of FGM, and could never forget. Though FGM can come to some people as voluntary, its either way I believe this is definitely violence against women. Having your clitoris or vagina cut in any way to me would be painful, but having this done not at your own will is even more physically and mentally. Imagining someone holding me down at 6-8 years old and being cut and legs bound together for weeks, not able to move , or even stand up for yourself is sickening. Even worse when your family member has done this to you themselves. As i got this topic as an assignment, I began talking about it , seeing if anyone i know had heard of it. Thats when my best friend, said casually “girl all my family but me has this done.” I was in shock. She explained to me that her sisters had went to Eritrea her aunt without consent took her sisters, then 8 and 10 years old to be cut while on vacation from California. I couldn’t believe so close to home, FGM was here, in California. Though I know that this is a tradition, i believe some of the women don’t have the necessary information on FGM and what it could do to your body. Also, theres the problem that in some countries men won’t even marry women who are not cut. I think more information to men should be provided on what FGM can do to a women for the rest of their lives, and for child-bearing purposes as well.

Have Your say

To comment, you must be registered with The F-Word. Not a member? Register. Already a member? Use the sign in button below

Sign in to the F-Word

Further Reading

Has The F-Word whet your appetite? Check out our Resources section, for listings of feminist blogs, campaigns, feminist networks in the UK, mailing lists, international and national websites and charities of interest.

Write for us!

Got something to say? Something to review? News to discuss? Well we want to hear from you! Click here for more info

  • The F-Word on Twitter
  • The F-Word on Facebook
  • Our XML Feeds