Female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as female genital cutting and female circumcision, is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injuries to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”
Female circumcision is against the law in South Africa.[space]
Types of female circumcision
It includes removal of all or part of the clitoris and clitoral hood;
all or part of the clitoris and inner labia;
and in its most severe form (infibulation) all or part of the inner and outer labia and the closure of the vagina.
In this last procedure, which the WHO calls Type III FGM, a small hole is left for the passage of urine and menstrual blood, and the vagina is opened up for intercourse and childbirth.
Is there any benefit to having a female circumcision?
FGM has no health benefits, and it harms girls and women in many ways.
It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue and interferes with the natural functions of girls’ and women’s bodies.
Immediate complications can include severe pain, shock, haemorrhage (bleeding), tetanus or sepsis (bacterial infection), urine retention, open sores in the genital region and injury to nearby genital tissue.
Long-term consequences can include:
- Recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections
- Painful sex
- Tearing of stitched up vaginal opening during intercourse
- Bleeding and risk of infection
- An increased risk of childbirth complications and newborn death
- The need for later surgeries.
For example, the FGM procedure that seals or narrows a vaginal opening (type 3 above) needs to be cut open later to allow for sexual intercourse and childbirth. Sometimes it is stitched again several times, including after childbirth, hence the woman goes through repeated opening and closing procedures, further increasing and repeated both immediate and long-term risks.
Violence against women
FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children. The practise also violates a person’s rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.
More than 125 million girls and women alive today have been cut in the 29 countries in Africa and Middle East where FGM is concentrated.
Picture attribution: Johnuniq, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia
What are the Cultural, Religious and Social causes of FGM:
- There is social pressure to conform to what others do.
- It is often considered a necessary part of raising a girl properly.
- FGM is in many communities believed to reduce a woman’s libido and therefore believed to help her resist “illicit” sexual acts.
- It is a cultural belief that girls are “clean” and “beautiful” after the removal of body parts that are considered “male” or “unclean”.
- Though no religious scripts prescribe the practise, practitioners often believe the practise has religious support.
- In most societies, FGM is considered a cultural tradition, which is often used as an argument for its continuation.