8 things you should know about FGM
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a threat to millions of women and girls globally. Equality Now has worked to end FGM through the law since 1992. Here are eight things you might not know about this human rights violation:
1. The term FGM covers a range of harmful practices to female genitalia
FGM is defined as the partial or complete removal or injury of external female genitalia for non-medical reasons. While FGM is defined as any injury to the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons, it is commonly broken down into four types, as outlined by the World Health Organization (WHO):
- Type I — Partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce (clitoridectomy).
- Type II — Partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (excision).
- Type III — Narrowing of the vaginal orifice with creation of a covering seal by cutting and appositioning the labia minora and/or the labia majora, with or without excision of the clitoris (infibulation).
- Type IV — All other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, for example: pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterization
2. FGM occurs on every continent except Antarctica
FGM occurs on every continent and across all cultural, religious and socio economic groups. Whilst most instances of FGM occur in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, FGM is also practiced in Australia, Europe, Latin America, New Zealand and North America.
From India to Liberia to the United States, FGM can have lifelong implications for women and girls who are subjected to it.
3. At least 200 million women and girls alive today have been subjected to FGM
FGM is a difficult issue to quantify, partly because data relies on women self-reporting having undergone the practice. Due to population growth in areas of the world where the practice is most common, there is also a concern that the number of women and girls subjected to FGM could rise in the near future. In 2020, Equality Now, along with the End FGM European Network and the US End FGM/C Network, released Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A Call for a Global Response, which highlighted at least 60 countries where there is no national-level prevalence data is available, despite evidence of the presence of FGM. This leaves the 200 million estimate grossly inadequate, the actual figure is likely to be far higher.
4. It happens to women and girls of all ages.
FGM is typically carried out on girls between infancy and age 15. In some countries, such as Indonesia, FGM may be offered in hospitals alongside vaccinations as part of a “birth package,” while in other countries, such as Kenya, the practice is most commonly carried out on girls between the ages of 12-18. In some contexts, girls undergo FGM to prepare them for an impending marriage.
5. FGM only causes harm
FGM has no medical benefits but is associated with many health problems. At the time the practice is carried out, risks include severe bleeding, shock, infection, along with other serious injuries and even death.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over the course of her life, a girl or a woman who has been subjected to FGM faces difficulties with menstruation, such as pain and difficulty passing menstrual blood or urine, urinary tract infections, pain during sex, less or no sexual satisfaction, and increased risk of complications during childbirth, among other risks to her physical and mental health.
6. It is a human rights violation.
FGM is recognized as a violation of the human rights of women and girls under international human rights law and by relevant bodies including the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF, and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
In 2012, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution to eliminate FGM and, in 2015, the 193 countries comprising the United Nations unanimously agreed to a new global target within the body’s Sustainable Development Goals calling for the elimination of FGM by 2030.
7. It’s rooted in a desire to control women’s sexuality
While the reasons behind FGM vary from context to context, it is largely rooted in the desire to control women’s sexuality and bodily autonomy. The practice is deeply rooted in patriarchal social norms and the idea that women and girl’s bodies must be kept “pure” and subjugated for men’s pleasure.
8. The law is just one pillar of the global efforts to eradicate FGM
Whilst ensuring that girls and women are protected by law from FGM is key, the law cannot eradicate this practice alone.
We need to address the fundamental inequality in attitudes and perceptions on the role and place of women and girls in society. To move forwards in the efforts to eradicate FGM, every one of us needs to commit to engaging in discussions around gender equality at all levels, within our communities, and our families, as well as at a national and international level.
Increasing women’s access to education can help to curb the incidence of FGM, as it opens women and girls’ minds to considerations beyond the traditions of their communities. Women and girls with more education are also less likely to choose the practice for their daughter, in addition to being less likely to have undergone FGM themselves.
Coupled with greater knowledge about the damaging effects of FGM, educational initiatives, such as school based anti-FGM campaigns, community wide campaigns, and media campaigns utilizing theater and other entertainment sources, can lead to greater understanding of the importance of having and enforcing laws against FGM.