Female Genital Mutilation

Female genital mutilation is a widespread practice in parts of the world. Female genital mutilation is commonly referred to as “FGM,” and is also sometimes referred to as female genital cutting, or “FGC.” It is a practice that “violates a series of well-established human rights principles, norms and standards, including the principles of equality and non-discrimination on the basis of sex, the right to life when the procedure results in death, and the right to freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” 

The World Health Organization defines female genital mutilation as "all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons," and lists four types of female genital mutilation:

  • Clitoridectomy: partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals) and, in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).
  • Excision: partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (the labia are "the lips" that surround the vagina).
  • Infibulation: narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the inner, or outer, labia, with or without removal of the clitoris.
  • Other: all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.

Although many organizations and governments at both the local and international levels have worked to reduce the prevalence of female genital mutilation, the practice is still common in many countries. It is estimated that between 100 and140 million girls and women worldwide have been victims of female genital mutilation. Each year, 3 million girls are subjected to the practice in Africa. 

 

Female genital mutilation has no health benefits but creates many health risks. There are severe physical and emotional complications associated with female genital mutilation. The procedure is most often performed by traditional practitioners using scissors or razor blades and without anesthesia. After the procedure is completed, immediate risks include shock, hemorrhaging, difficulty passing urine, infections and even death. Over the course of a woman’s life, she may experience continuing health risks including pain, infections, sexual problems, menstruation problems, infertility, recurrent urinary and bladder infections, and psychological consequences including post-traumatic stress disorder and mood and cognitive disorders. If a woman is a victim of female genital mutilation, the risks in childbirth to both the woman and the baby increase.

The reasons why communities practice female genital mutilation vary, but generally female genital mutilation is associated with traditions or customs based on controlling a woman’s sexuality. Many families and communities believe that female genital mutilation is a rite of passage. A girl in a community where female genital mutilation is routinely practiced may be socially excluded and unable to marry if she has not had the procedure. In addition to the intense social pressure, there is significant economic pressure to subject girls to female genital mutilation. There are economic benefits to having a daughter married, and the rituals associated with female genital mutilation provide a source of income for many people.

In addition to the physical and emotional consequences, FGM reflects severe gender discrimination. It robs communities of the full contributions of women and girls and limits the capacity and ability of women and girls to reach their potential. It therefore limits country development and efforts to reduce poverty.

There is evidence that a combination of community empowerment and education, public pledges to stop the practice, national dialogue, and increasing commitment to international human rights can bring about transformative social change to reduce and perhaps someday end this practice.

 

Compiled from: Female Genital Mutilation Fact Sheet, World Health Organization (Fact sheet N°241) (February 2010); Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation, An Interagency Statement, World Health Organization (2008) (PDF, 48 pages); Bureau for Global Health Strategy for Female Genital Cutting (FGC) (FY 2004 - FY 2006)Bureau for Global Health, United States Agency for International Development (July 2004) (PDF, 29 pages); Changing a Harmful Social Convention: Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting, Innocenti Research Center, United Nations Children's Fund (May 2008) (PDF, 54 pages); Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A Statistical Exploration, United Nations Children's Fund (November 2005) (PDF, 58 pages); Platform for Action: Towards the Abandonment of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C), The Donors Working Group on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (December 2008) (PDF, 6 pages).