Female Genital Mutilation

The below text is copyright, “Broken Bodies – Broken Dreams: Violence against Women Exposed.”: 

“Defining FGM

Synonymously identified as female genital cutting or female genital circumcision, “Female genital mutilation” broadly encompasses “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs whether for cultural or other non-therapeutic reasons.” Although many variations in procedures as well as terminology exist within and across the cultures where FGM is practiced, a standardized international classification for FGM was collaboratively developed in 1995 by the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Fund for the Populations Assistance (UNFPA).

The first method within the classification, commonly referred to as “clitoridectomy”, involves holding the clitoris of a girl child between thumb and index finger, pulling it out and then partially or fully amputating it with a swift stroke of a razor, knife or other inner surface of the outer lips of the vagina (labia majora) is also cut. The wound is then fused together with thorns, dung or other poultices, or stitches – a process that may be reinforced by tying together the girl’s legs for a period of up to six weeks. The resulting scar tissue typically covers the urethra and part or most of the vagina. A small hole is retained for the discharge of urine and menstrual blood. A fourth, “unclassified” type of FGM uncludes a wide range of harmful practices, from piercing or incising the clitoris to burning, scraping or introducing corrosive substances into the vagina.

While it is estimated that 85 percent of all FGM practices worldwide fall within the first two types, approximately 80 to 90 percent of girls in Dijibouti, Somalia and Sudan, as well as small percentages of girls in Chad, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria and Tanzania undergo infibulation.

International debate regarding the appropriate terminology to describe FGM is almost as controversial as the practice itself. All official United Nations documents currently use the term “mutilation” to emphasize its medically gratuitous and severe nature. Many working on the ground, however, maintain that the term “cutting” is a more value-neutral and therefore respectful articulation of a practice to which many cultures and individuals remain committed. Others working both internationally and locally have used the term “circumcision”. While still popular idiomatically, the use of this term is diminishing in international discourse because its association to male circumcision (removing the foreskin of the penis) minim sizes the nature and effects of most types of genital cutting performed on women. Comparable genital “circumcision” for men would involve the partial or complete removal of the penis, in addition to the foreskin.

Although male circumcision is considered by some advocates to b a fundamental violation of a boy’s right to bodily integrity, its health impacts are currently the subject of heated discussion. Those opposed to male circumcision argue that it has negative impacts on men’s health and sexuality. Evidence also suggests that when performed in unhygienic settings male circumcision can lead to infections, injuries and even death. A recent study conducted in South Africa, however, concluded that circumcision may have positive effects for males in terms of reducing their risk of contracting HIV.

For females, the evidence is not similarly equivocal. Even the most minimal form of FGM can affect a girl’s normal sexual function and put her at risk of a wide spectrum of negative health consequences.

The health effects of FGM

The immediate physical effects of FGM may include severe pain, shock and hemorrhaging. There is also high risk of local and systemic infections, including abscesses, ulcers, delayed healing, septicaemia, tetanus and gangrene. Long-term physical complications may include urine retention and associated urinary-tract infections, obstruction of menses and related reproductive-tract infections, infertility, painful intercourse and prolonged and obstructed labor. FGM also can facilitate the transmission of HIV, especially if infected infants and girls are cut in group ceremonies were circumcisers use the same instrument on all the initiates. Even after it has healed, the scarred or dry vulva of an excised or infibulated woman can be torn easily during sexual intercourse, increasing the likelihood of HIV transmission by an infected partner.

In addition to a host of physical effects, the psychological terror of FGM may also have a lasting impact, including a sense for some girls of no longer having control over their bodies – especially if they are ambushed and forced to submit to the procedure. One young girl from Burkina Faso recalled what she initially thought was a casual visit to a relative’s house:

“They asked us to go around for sweets and eggs. When we arrived, three women caught me, bundled me in to the toilet, pinned me down and undressed me. … I saw the knife and knew what was going to happen. I cried out, but I couldn’t find the words to speak.”

All text is copyright (IRIN). Full permission is given for reproduction for non-commercial purposes.

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One Response to “Female Genital Mutilation”

  1. ” If they think there’s no God, they better be right”!… for all I can sense is the horror of such acts being performed on females, or any one… its same as cutting off a mans privates, and worst of all to remodel what the greater forces of the Universe has designed, is the great need of ‘control’, which is what the ‘mind’ was designed for and can be taught.
    It’s pathetic, the need so many beings hold, to feel as if their the God/Power-of-the-universe, by butchering other human beings to uphold their self-centered beliefs. If they think there’s no God, for their own sake, they best be right !
    Thanks and blessings to all those who have part in putting a stop to all the ‘torture/exploitation” of our females, children, even abuse to males,….

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