FGM is a cultural practice of partially or completely removing the external female genitalia to inhibit a woman’s sexual desires, but it is widely seen as a human rights violation. The practice can cause both short and long term affect like infections, psychological trauma, painful scarring and even death.
The practice is most common in the western, eastern, and north-eastern regions of Africa, in some countries the Middle East and Asia, as well as among migrants from these areas. Procedures are mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and adolescence, and occasionally adult women are confronted with the pressure to be cut.
The European Parliament estimates 500,000 girls and women living in Europe are suffering with the lifelong consequences of female genital mutilation. The EU has the power to act. The End FGM European Network works to ensure that the EU acts now to end this practice and protect women and girls.
A UNICEF report revealed in 2013, 3.6 million girls and women were affected by female genital mutilation (FGM). If nothing is done to stop it that number could more than double by 2050.
No health benefits, only harm
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. Generally speaking, risks increase with the increasing severity of the procedure.
Immediate complications can include:
>genital tissue swelling
>infections e.g., tetanus
>wound healing problems
>injury to surrounding genital tissue
Long-term consequences can include:
>urinary problems (painful urination, urinary tract infections).
>vaginal problems (discharge, itching, bacterial vaginosis and other infections).
>menstrual problems (painful menstruations, difficulty in passing menstrual blood, etc.).
>sexual problems (pain during intercourse, decreased satisfaction, etc.).
>increased risk of childbirth complications (difficult delivery, excessive bleeding, caesarean section, need to resuscitate the baby, etc.) and newborn deaths.
>need for later surgeries. Sometimes genital tissue is stitched again several times, including after childbirth.
>psychological problems (depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, low self-esteem, etc.).
Essential steps to stop FGM
To make lasting change for girls, first, governments need the political will to match their words with action. Enactment of laws against FGM is only the first step. Too many governments are failing to properly implement their laws or to educate their citizens about the laws
Second, the efforts of grassroots activists fighting against FGM must be supported. Activists know the change that is needed within their communities and the ways to achieve the change.
Third, efforts to end FGM must be rooted in the recognition that FGM arises due to gender inequality and the lower status of women in society. As such, anti-FGM efforts must include work to create equality between men and women, girls and boys.
Lastly, and most importantly, greater donor resources have to be committed to the work to end FGM and a major share of these resources must be invested in those at risk—adolescent girls. To help prevent FGM, there must be investment in building the assets of girls, so that they themselves become agents of change.
U.N. Ambassador and FGM survivor, Waris Dirie established the Desert Flower Foundation. The organization operates centers which offer reconstructive surgery, gynecological and psychological care for FGM victims.
Save The Children is working to shift the social norms that sustain the practice of FGM. They do this by empowering women and girls with education and access to income as well as increased access to sexual and reproductive information and services.
To recapitulate, the practice of FGM has been documented in certain parts of Africa, Asia and Middle East. It is now encountered in Europe as well. FGM is therefore a global concern. In the last few decades, tireless efforts by activists around the world to end female genital mutilation (FGM) have slowly but surely borne fruit.