The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines female genital mutilation (FGM) as “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons”.
It is child abuse, it is recognised internationally as a violation of human rights and yet it is estimated to affect up to 140 million girls and women worldwide. According to a 2013 Unicef report, almost all girls are mutilated in countries such as Somalia (98%), Guinea (96%) and Egypt (91%). The report focused on the 29 countries in Africa and Middle East where the practice is the most common.
But thanks to migration, FGM is now practiced nearly everywhere around the world, which was personally the most shocking finding. It is taking place in countries such as the UK (a report estimates that there are 66,000 victims of FGM in England and Wales), US, Australia, Canada – you name it.
I only became aware of this last week when 17-year-old student Fahma Mohamed launched a petition – backed by the Guardian, Change.org and a coalition of campaigners – calling on the UK education secretary, Michael Gove, to write to every teacher in the country before the summer holidays, requesting them to train both teachers and parents about the barbarity of FGM. It has gathered over 200,000 signatures and Gove has agreed to meet with the teenage activist.
Causes and consequences
Having their genitals partially or totally severed with a razor blade is the price millions of girls have to pay to make their transition to adulthood, though some undergo the procedure in early childhood or infancy. The ancient this rite of passage allegedly hopes to ensure appropriate sexual behavior in regards to premarital virginity and matrimonial fidelity, since many believe it reduces a woman’s sexual urges.
But the same Unicef report found that social acceptance is now cited as the main reason for the continuation of the practice, and that in most countries where FGM is practiced the majority of girls and women think it should end. Religious motives are frequently brought up, though there is no mention of the practice in religious scripts.
In the most barbaric cases, the genital area is literally stitched up, fuelling the fear of pain to open it and thus considered an even more inhumane form of control of women. It sounds like a girl’s worst nightmare and I cannot even begin to imagine the excruciating pain, not to mention the consequences. Immediate risks include shock, bleeding and all kinds of infections. Long-term effects can go from infertility to recurrent bladder infections, and childbirth complications to mental trauma. It doesn’t benefit your health, it ruins it both physically and psychologically. You’re scarred for life.
According to the UN population fund and Unicef, whose representatives have long been engaging in negotiations with the leaders of the communities to raise awareness of the suffering and dangers of FGM, 8,000 communities in Africa have abandoned the practice.