Female cutting, or female genital mutilation (FGM) is the cutting of a girl’s clitoris and labia (the folds of skin around the entrance of the vagina) for non-medical reasons.
WHO IS AFFECTED?
Those affected by FGM are girls, usually between birth and the age of 15. Up to 200 million girls worldwide have been cut. The extent of FGM varies hugely depending on location, for example 92% of Mali’s female population have undergone FGM, compared to 28% in Senegal.
WHY DOES FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION HAPPEN?
FGM has a long cultural history but is not a religious requirement – its significance is social. Historically, FGM was an essential part of a girl’s cultural identity. It was also part of upholding family honour, and sometimes a precondition for marriage.
WHY ARE PEOPLE CAMPAIGNING TO END THE PRACTICE?
18 African countries have introduced laws to make FGM a crime. The United Nations considers female genital mutilation to be a serious crime.
There are several reasons for this.
- Short term physical injury: haemorrhaging (severe blood loss) can occur, sometimes causing death. The genitalia can become easily infected.
- Longer term physical effects: infections in the bladder and urinary tract are more likely. It is also more likely that childbirth will be difficult, as FGM can make it harder to get pregnant, and also more dangerous to give birth – there is a higher risk of infant death with a mother who has received FGM.
- Psychological pain: the intense physical pain combined with the young age of those who have been cut mean that they can be traumatised for life by the experience.
Social impact: once a girl has been cut, she sometimes drops out of school, limiting her education and opportunities.
There are many examples of local women campaigning to end FGM.
For example, Maria in Kenya used to cut local girls and had herself been cut at the age of 12. Years later, she gave birth to a stillborn baby (labour had been obstructed by FGM). She began telling other women her story to stop them from cutting their daughters, and now works as a birth attendant helping women who have been cut give birth safely.
Another example is Nengai Lazaro in Tanzania, who fled her own planned cutting and found safety in a Girls’ School in Monduli. Nengai now works for the educational group Maasai Women Development Organisation, which has provided 86 girls full scholarships and accommodation in order to provide them with education and prevent them from being cut.
Governments are enforcing anti-FGM laws more often, and women in local communities are doing more and more to protect young girls from this practice. The success of this can be seen in the fact that the number of girls undergoing FGM in east Africa has fallen from 71.4% in 1995 to 8% in 2016. The more people talk about this practice and the dangers associated with it, the safer the world will be for young girls.
Photo by hans_photography