Standing against Girl Mutilation

by ACT

  • Posted on February 8, 2019

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… International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), also known as genital cutting or female circumcision, refers to the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia.  It includes any other practice which causes harm to the genitalia for non-therapeutic purposes.

FGM is widely practised in Africa, the Middle East and some Asian countries, including India, Indonesia, Iraq and Pakistan, also amongst some Latin American indigenous groups. The practise carries on even among the Diaspora communities from these nations throughout the world.

The practice dates back to ancient cultures (which is the main reason it still persists) and is largely carried out for three reasons. Firstly, it is associated with the control of female sexuality and desire and is intended to make extra-marital relations less likely. Secondly, it is seen as an important part of becoming an adult and so is often carried out on girls on the edge of puberty – culturally as a rite of passage. Thirdly, it is seen as an important marker of group identity in societies where it is so ingrained and is indelibly linked with marriageability. Some men simply will not marry un-cut women. It is estimated that there are 200 million girls and women alive who have undergone some form of FGM.

The Day of Zero Tolerance is part of the UN Sustainable Development Goal calling for the global eradication of FGM by 2030.

“The nightmare started as my younger sister was called in to the house by my aunts. I followed but was told to wait outside. I didn’t think much of it at the time. One of my neighbour’s daughters who was playing with us came to me, “You must be excited?”  – I asked “what for?” –  I didn’t know what she was talking about. “You will be a big girl now, all you have to do is be very brave and don’t cry“. I still didn’t understand what she meant. When she explained what was going to happen to me, all I wanted was my mum to come and rescue me. I ran so fast trying to hide in the house at the same time. I could hear my little sister scream. I never heard such scream; even today when I shut my eyes I can hear her screaming.”       – Istar, an African woman sharing her experience.

The Problems with FGM

Although culturally ingrained, FGM is not just a harsh practice; it is also dangerous and causes lasting damage. Short-term complications include severe pain and risk of haemorrhage that can lead to shock and death. In addition, there is a very high risk of local and systemic infections, with documented reports of abscesses, ulcers, delayed healing, septicaemia, tetanus and gangrene. Long-term complications include; urine retention resulting in repeated urinary infections, obstruction of menstrual flow leading to frequent reproductive tract infections, infertility and prolonged obstructed labour. There are also psychological and sexual effects. The process is traumatic, girls are often forcibly held down and after infibulation it is not uncommon for the legs to be tied together for several days. Furthermore, studies indicate that maternal mortality rates are up to 55% higher for women who have undergone FGM.

Types of FGM

There are 4 main types of Female Genital Mutilation:

Clitoridectomy is a partial or total removal of the clitoris. Excision is partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (the labia are the “lips” that surround the vagina). Infibulation (also known as ‘Pharaonic’) is the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the inner, or outer, labia. The seal is often created by sewing the vaginal opening shut – it is then broken when a woman loses her virginity. Other types such as pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital areaare all harmful the female genitalia when carried out for non-medical purposes.

A UK Perspective

Some Diaspora communities still practise FGM despite it being illegal in the UK. Often girls are taken abroad for the procedure but sometimes it is carried out at home. Even though FGM is a violation of the human rights of girls and women under international law, it is rarely properly tackled in countries like the UK. According to government statistics, there are around 137,000 survivors of FGM in the UK, where it has been illegal since 1985, but only three cases have been brought before British judges. However, on Friday 1st February 2019, a woman who mutilated her three year old daughter became the first person to be convicted of FGM in the UK and with this, history has been made. Campaigners now hope that this outcome will encourage others to come forward to report cases.

What can be done?

More and more countries are criminalising FGM – yet, as we can see from the lack of cases reaching trial in the UK, criminalisation is not enough of a deterrent. Campaigners suggest that a ban on FGM in Egypt in 2008 has had almost no impact in reducing the number of girls cut.

Ultimately, there are no quick or easy solutions to eradicating FGM – it will take time and require effort from local and international groups, as well as individuals. However, the most successful approach so far has been through programmes that are non-judgmental and non-coercive that focus on encouraging a collective choice to abandon the practise. Education about the dangers of FGM and empowering girls to speak out is fundamental to any hope of ending FGM by 2030.

ACT stand in solidarity with girls throughout the world who suffer cruelty in the name of tradition. Through our work, we are supporting disadvantage children, girls and boys, to make decisions that enable them to achieve their potential in life. Read how ACT helped Fiona overturn society’s expectations of her through education.

To find out how to support a disadvantaged child in Africa and make a difference in their life click here.


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