Updated: May 20
This post will discuss the traditional harmful practice of female genital mutilation(cutting) and its myriad subsequent adverse health complications that severely impact women and girls' overall health and well-being. I genuinely and strongly hope for this harmful traditional practice to become defunct once and for all. Although I can not spark change on a global level alone, I can at least do my small part in making the world a better place. One way I can achieve this is through educating myself to be well-informed so that my advocacy efforts in calling awareness of this social problem are effective and sustainable in the long run.
Keywords: gender inequality, sexual violence, female genital mutilation, human rights, human rights violation, the right to bodily integrity and autonomy, the right to health, and the right to be free from harm
A few sources of inspiration led me to write about this human rights violation. The primary source of inspiration is an online training that I took to understand the origins of this harmful, oppressive traditional practice. I am pleased to have walked away with new, valuable knowledge. My vision behind this article is to inspire political officials, NGOs, human rights activists, and high-level influencers to advocate against this particular form of injustice. The second source of inspiration that prompted me to write about FGM/C is my strong passion for human rights and social justice. I felt it was duly necessary to speak up about the horrific conditions and trauma that millions of women and girls have to endure, stemming from their personal experiences with FGM. I am not a huge proponent of the practice because it is unfair, discriminatory, and a massive violation of women's and girls' rights to dignity, health, and bodily integrity.
Female genital mutilation(cutting) is a traditional cultural practice that involves removing female genitalia, either partially or entirely, for non-medical purposes. People heavily practice it in various African countries and some regions of the Middle East, such as Yemen and Iraq. I will discuss multiple countries to show its ubiquitous prevalence. The origin of female genital mutilation(cutting) is unknown. Anthropologists have contested that FGM/C might have started in Egypt about 2000 years ago.
Another debatable point is that the ancient Greeks might have practiced FGM/C. Furthermore, Westernized nations, such as Great Britain, were strong proponents of female genital mutilation due to the erroneous and ridiculous assumption that it would be able to prevent masturbation and hysteric episodes. Researchers have proven this theory to be scientifically invalid through continuous empirical research.
As one can imagine, the ritual of FGM/C, like any other cultural practice, is propelled by a myriad of systemic socio-cultural factors, such as entrenched gender norms, religion, and history that explain why the tradition has come about. To close this argument, It all boils down to the fact that FGM/C has been and continues to be utilized as a form of oppression to subjugate women and girls and suppress their sexual fantasies to maintain their purity and innocence.
Here is a brief video explaining the practice of female genital mutilation. *I do not own the rights to this video*
There are four primary forms of female genital mutilation(cutting); clitoridectomy(removal of the clitoris and the prepuce(foreskin surrounding the clitoris), excision of the clitoris accompanied by the removal of the labia, the cutting of the female genitalia accompanied by stitching or narrowing of the vaginal opening, and other miscellaneous forms of FGM/C. Traditional leaders and medical professionals carry the first type of FGM/C procedure by using the thumb and forefinger held together simultaneously to stroke the clitoris area for ease of its removal. In some cultures, clitoridectomy, also known as "Sunna," is the most frequently performed procedure on women and girls. Type 2 of FGM/C is just a continuation of Type 1(clitoridectomy) accompanied by the removal of the clitoris and the excision of the outer or inner parts of the labia. Type 3 of FGM/C is infibulation, also known as "Pharaonic circumcision." This procedure consists of the total removal of the female genitalia in the attempt to fuse the vaginal lips(labia) with a binding material, such as thread, glue, or stitches. The specific form of FGM/C has been widely deemed the severest form of FGM/C due to the non-existence of the genital area and a tiny cavity hole that enables urine, fecal matter, and menses to leave the body. Last but certainly not least, the final category of FGM/C, which is Type 4, is any other miscellaneous, non-medical procedures to damage the genitalia not mentioned in the categories mentioned above. A few examples of procedures under this category are pricking, burning, scraping, etc.
Most people in Africa and the Middle East and immigrant enclaves practice FGM/C in their respective new countries. Somalia, Mali, Egypt, etc., are just a few examples of countries boasting higher prevalence rates.
Mali: According to UNICEF, approximately 8 million girls and women have been endured some form of FGM/C. The prevalence rate of FGM/C victims currently sits at 90%. Type 3(infibulation) is the most widely performed procedure by traditional leaders in most Malian regions. Nationally, clitoridectomy, including removal of the inner and outer labium(Types 1 and 2), are the most commonly practiced types of FGM with a prevalence rate of about 90%. 60% of girls below the age of 5 experienced FGM; however, among the older cohort(10-14 y/o), about 86% of girls have undergone FGM.
Guinea-Bissau: According to UNICEF, 400,000 girls and women have endured FGM/C, with a prevalence rate presently at 52% within the 15-49 age group. Types 1 and 2(clitoridectomy with the removal of the labium) was the most highly reported category of FGM/C by girls and women at a whopping rate of about 75%. On the contrary, Type 3 was the form of FGM least accounted for by victims, only measured at a low prevalence rate of 18% on a national level. However, Type 3(infibulation) is widely performed in the two regions of Gabu and Cacheu, boasting high prevalence rates of 45% and 53%, respectively. Nationally, traditional leaders and medical practitioners typically perform FGM/C on girls before the age of 5; overall, 65% of women and girls(15-49 years old) have undergone FGM before age 5.
Ethiopia: According to UNICEF, about 25 million women and girls have undergone FGM/C with an overall prevalence rate of 65%. Somali and Afar boast the highest prevalence rates of female victims of FGM/C at 99% and 91%, respectively. Furthermore, infibulation(Type 3) is heavily practiced in Somali and Afar with 62% and 69% prevalence rates. Nationally, 73% of women reported that they were cut and had their flesh removed(Type 2).
Senegal: According to UNICEF, about 2 million women and girls went through FGM/C with an overall prevalence rate of 25%. This tradition is not uniformly practiced throughout the country; there are vast variations among the regions that perform the ritual. Soninke and Mandingue/Socé are the top two regions with the highest concentration of women and girls undergoing FGM/C with an overall prevalence rate of 66%, respectively. Excision, including flesh removal, is the most commonly performed FGM category, with a national prevalence rate of 83%. Conversely, infibulation occurs at a lesser frequency than clitoridectomy. However, the Kolda region boasts a high prevalence rate of 46% of women and girls who have experienced infibulation(Type 3).
Egypt: According to UNICEF, 90% of young women and girls have experienced FGM/C with alarmingly high rates. On average, teenage girls(10-14-year-old) undergo it more frequently than their younger counterparts. About 70% of adolescents have endured FGM/C in some way or another. On the contrary, medical professionals perform this ritual under the guise of medical practice at a disturbing prevalence rate of about 60%
Kenya: According to UNICEF, 4 million girls and women have experienced FGM/C on a national level, with a national prevalence rate currently at 21% with gaping regional variations. About 70% of the time, traditional leaders execute this procedure with a slight variation of medical professionals that perform the ritual. Type 2 of FGM/C, which is excision with flesh removal, is the most commonly reported category of FGM/C by young women and girls, with a national prevalence rate of around 90%. Additionally, infibulation, type 3 of FGM/C, is heavily practiced among the Somali and other miscellaneous Kenyan ethnic groups.
Here is a talk from FGM Survivor Layla Hussein in which she discusses her personal, harrowing experiences from FGM. *I do not own the rights to this video*
Without question, female genital mutilation(cutting) can leave many damaging effects on women and girls for a lifetime. There is no justification for the practice, and it does not present any positive benefits whatsoever by any stretch of the imagination! From a health standpoint, it can cause excruciating pain depending on the severity of the procedure. Urinary tract infections, high risk of infertility issues, and the manifestation of psychological disorders, such as anxiety, PTSD, are clear examples of adverse health consequences that commonly stem from FGM/C. From a social perspective, the lasting effects of female genital mutilation(cutting) can jeopardize one's relationships due to victims' lack of sex appeal and high social standing. Unsurprisingly, another complication stemming from FGM is painful sex and little to no pleasure to engage in sexual intercourse.
I noticed different recurring trends among the countries that practice FGM/C that I discussed earlier. Higher education levels, religion(Protestant, Muslim, or Christianity), and environmental context(urban and rural) play a significant role in shaping individuals' attitudes and opinions about social phenomena, such as community rituals. The type of individuals firmly against the practice, on average, live in areas with the lowest FGM/C prevalence rates concentrated in urban areas possessing post-secondary educational levels.
On a global scale, it looks to me that the rate of progress toward entirely eradicating FGM/C in 2030 is skewed and unequal at best. Some countries, such as Ethiopia, are almost reaching the finish line in discontinuing FGM/C. Fortunately, there has been a consensus among men and women for the FGM/C practice to discontinue.