Female Genital Mutilation (often referred to as FGM) is a destructive operation, during which the female genitals are partly or entirely removed or injured with the goals of inhibiting a woman’s sexual feelings. Most often the mutilation is performed before puberty, often on girls between the age of four and eight, but recently it is increasingly performed on nurslings who are only a couple of days, weeks or months old.
Where does FGM happen?
Female Genital Mutilation happens primarily in Africa, in particular in North-Eastern, Eastern and Western Africa. However, it also takes place in the Middle East, in South-East Asia – and also among immigrants in Europe. According to estimates by the World Health Organisation (WHO) 150 million women are affected by FGM world-wide. In Europe, the number of mutilated women or girls and women threatened by FGM amounts up to 500,000.
What different types of FGM are there?
The WHO differentiates between four different types of Female Genital Mutilation:
1. Excision of the clitoris prepuce (“Sunna-circumcision”) and of the clitoris or parts thereof.
2. Excision of the clitoris prepuce, the clitoris and the inner lips or parts thereof.
3. Type 1 and 2 are the most common types of FGM: eighty percent of the affected women have gone through these procedures.
4. Excision of part of or all of the external genitals (“infibulation”, also referred to as “Pharaonic Circumcision”). Afterwards the remaining parts of the outer lips are sewn together leaving a small hole for urine and menstrual flow.
5. The scar need to be opened before intercourse or giving birth, which causes additional pain.
6. Infibulation is mainly spread in the Horn of Africa and its neighbouring areas – in Somalia, Djibouti and Eritrea, as well as in the northern part of Sudan and in the southern part of Egypt. It is the most severe form of FGM and affects 15 percent of the women.
7. Pricking, piercing, cutting or stretching of the clitoris or the labia, also burning or scarring the genitals as well as ripping of the vaginal opening or the introduction of corrosive substances or herbs into the vagina in order to tighten it. Plus: any other procedure, which injures or circumcises the female genitalia.
Who performs FGM?
FGM is usually performed by professional circumcisers, women who are enjoying a high reputation in their societies. It is also performed by traditional midwives and occasionally by healers, barbers or nurses or doctors trained in Western medicine. The procedure is usually performed without anaesthetic and under catastrophic hygienic circumstances. Knives, scissors, razor blades or pieces of broken glass are used as instruments among others.
Prevalence and legal status
The Waris Dirie Foundation has put together a collection of data on the estimated prevalence of female genital mutilation and the current legal situation concerning FGM in a selection of countries where FGM is practiced. The table combines data from the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women, the World Health Organisation (WHO), the US Department of State, FGM Network, WADI, The Interparliamentary Union (IPU) and several national studies and surveys. You can download the table here.
Waris Diries friend Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s foundation has published an overview of the facts and the legal situation regarding FGM in the UK and the United States, which can be accessed here.