This year, a mother from Uganda was sentenced to 11-years’ imprisonment for carrying out female genital mutilation (FGM) on her 3-year old daughter in the United Kingdom. FGM is a harmful practice against women and girls and has been banned in the UK since 1985. This is the first conviction and sentence in the UK. You might think that FGM is practiced somewhere far from your community, but it could be happening in your neighborhood. As a matter of a fact, FGM is confirmed not only in the UK but across many regions. This is now becoming a global concern and eradicating FGM has been set as one of the targets in Sustainable Development Goals. Here are a couple of things you need to know about female genital mutilation:
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is defined as all procedures involving partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. It doesn’t provide any health benefits, but rather causes serious risks on women’s health including chronic infections and pain, menstrual problems and complications in child birth. FGM has been practiced from generation to generation based on the cultural brief and social norms in the communities. In some communities, FGM is considered a girl’s initiation into womanhood and marriage. While in others, it is believed to ensure premarital virginity and marital fidelity. FGM has been recognized and criticized as a violation of women’s basic human rights in the international community.
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimates that at least 200 million women and girls have undergone FGM in the world. FGM has been practiced mainly in the western, eastern, and north-eastern regions of Africa and some countries in the Middle East and Asia. FGM is also found in western countries such as United Kingdom, United States and Canada.
According to the data from Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) and Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS), more than 65 percent of women ages 15-49 years have undergone FGM at least in 10 countries. In Guinea, the prevalence of FGM has slowly declined from 98.6 in 1999 to 96.8 in 2016, but it remains extremely high.
The following charts show that the socioeconomic status of women is correlated with the prevalence of FGM:
Most women have undergone FGM before reaching 15 years old. In several countries, more than 50 percent of women experienced FGM before the age of 5.
Based on the available data, FGM is usually carried out by a traditional practitioner such as traditional circumciser, barber, or traditional birth attendant in the communities. Anesthetic and antiseptics are generally not used. In some cases, FGM is performed by a medical professional. However, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has warned that there are no safe FGM practices even when medical professionals are involved since FGM could lead to serious medical complications.
DHS and MICS classifies FGM into four main categories, depending on the procedure:
Sewn closed (or Infibulation), narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal, is the most invasive and severe form of FGM. In Sudan, the majority of women have undergone this type of FGM.
While the data shows high prevalence in some countries, women do not necessarily support the practice of FGM, which appears deeply rooted in culture, social norm, and traditions.
FGM has been proven to have no medical benefits, and instead poses significant health risks. This practice is mostly performed on girls before they reach puberty – while they are still too young to make significant decisions for themselves. And in the countries where it is still practiced, the majority of women do not support FGM. In 20 out of 26 countries with data, more than half of women think that FGM should end.