Why should I care about Female Genital Mutilation? Hint: Up to 100% of women in some countries are faced with this procedure

Also known as FGM, Female Genital Mutilation comprises of all procedures which involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for no medical purpose. It can also be referred as female genital cutting or female circumcision.

It is internationally recognized as a human and women rights violation but is still practiced in some parts of the world.

Why is FGM practiced?

To control female sexuality
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in some cultures it is believed that this practice decreases women’s sexual urges, and hence increases the probability of them remaining virgins until they are married as well as their rate of fidelity after marriage.

Religion
FGM takes place in many religions including Christianity and Islam. Although neither of them approves it, religious principles are often used as excuses. Without going through the FGM procedure, girls are not accepted by their community.

Social Obligation
Due to its association with religion, these societies make it an essential part of the life of a girl. With its direct impact on beliefs about premarital virginity and marital fidelity, the social pressure to abide by the practice is considerably severe. Many times FGM becomes a prerequisite for marriage.

Aesthetics
In some of these groups, FGM is seen as a form of beautification of the woman body.

 

Types of Female Genital Mutilation

  • Type 1 – Clitoridectomy: partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals) and, in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).
  • Type 2 Excision: 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).
  • Type 3 – Infibulation: 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, with or without removal of the clitoris.
  • Type 4 – Other: all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.

 

Prevalence of FGM 

It is estimated by WHO that more than 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation across various countries where the practice is followed. An estimated 3 million girls are at risk every year. The percentage of women who undergo FGM varies from country to country: in Indonesia, it is estimated that 86% to 100% of girls and women have been cut; in Guinea and Somalia, more than 95% of girls and women; in Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, and Sierra Leone, it is near 90%. In Cameroon and Uganda, however, less than 2% of girls and women undergo FGM.

In the United States, available estimates suggest that more than 513,000 girls and women have experienced FGM or are at risk of FGM.

 

Immediate health problems following FGM:

  • Severe pain – Girls usually don’t get any pain medicine before or after the procedure.
  • Serious bleeding
  • Infection of the wound – Girls can get fever, shock, and even die if the infection is not treated.
  • Trauma – Girls are held down often against their will and may not understand why.
  • Problems going to the bathroom – including burning and pain
  • Tetanus and other infectious diseases – such as HIV, from unsterilized cutting tools
  • Death – Researchers do not know how many girls die because of FGM. Few records are kept, and deaths that may have been caused by FGM are often not reported as related to FGM

 

Long term health problems caused by FGM:

  • Infections – such as genital abscesses (sores filled with pus that must be drained) and infectious diseases such as hepatitis B. In one large study, more infections and infectious diseases such as urina bacterial infections and HIV were found in women with Type 3 FGM. This is probably because the damage caused by FGM can make vaginal tissue more likely to tear during sex. This increases the risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. . Some women may also have repeated  infections

 

  • Problems having sex – Extra scar tissue from FGM (most common after type 2 or type 3) can cause pain, especially during sex. This can lead to a lack of interest in sex, vaginal dryness, and lower overall satisfaction. Scarring can also cause vaginal tissue to be less elastic than normal vaginal tissue. It might not stretch as easily for sex or labor.
  • Depression and anxiety – Girls may not understand what is being done to them or why. The effects of this painful experience are similar to those of post-traumatic stress disorder. Girls or women who have already been cut and living in countries not familiar with the practice may be disgraced or humiliated when they receive medical care. They may also fear that health care providers in the United States do not know how to take care of them. This can make adjusting to a new country more challenging.
  • Painful and prolonged menstrual periods – Type 3 FGM may cause some girls and women to have painful menstrual periods. Some women are left with only a small opening for urinating and menstrual bleeding. They may not be able to pass all of their menstrual blood. This can cause pain and periods that are longer than normal

 

  • Urinary problems – Type 3 FGM may slow or strain the normal flow of urine, which can cause urinary tract infections. Urine can also get trapped behind the scar and crystallize, forming hard masses called bladder, or urinary, stones.
  • Fistula: an opening between the urethra and vagina that lets urine run into the vagina. This can happen when the urethra is damaged during FGM. Fistula’s cause incontinence and other problems, including odors, and can cause girls and women to become social outcasts.

 


Featured image | A campaign against female genital mutilation – a road sign near Kapchorwa, Uganda | wikimedia commons

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.

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