Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

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The term Genital Mutilations sounds old-school, obsolete and archaic. You are bound to assume that it is something of the past with no relevance or significance today. However, it is still practiced all over the world by ethnic groups in 27 countries in  the north-east Africa and sub-Saharan, and to a less significant degree in the Middle East and Asia and within immigrant communities elsewhere. Nevertheless, not many are aware of what Female Genital Mutilation physically entails. FGM is the ritual removal of external female genitalia. Now you may wonder how it is different from the male circumcision and why there is so much of a buzz about it. On a moral basis both of the procedures can be compared. However, medically FGM is much more invasive than male circumcision. What is important to remember in case of circumcision is that the focus is on removing foreskin and sometimes the tissue connecting to the foreskin but never the entire penile shaft. However, during a typical female circumcision the outer vulva and sometime the inner vulva are removed; the hood of the clitoris or often the entire clitoris is also removed; then the opening is stitched together leaving a small hole for urine and menstrual blood to pass with difficulty. It often leads to complications in child birth and prolonged labor.

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The WHO classifies Female Genital Mutilation into 4 different types:

  • Type I — Partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce (Clitoridectomy).

When it is important to distinguish between the major variations of Type I mutilation, the following subdivisions are proposed: Type Ia, removal of the clitoral hood or prepuce only;Type Ib, removal of the clitoris with the prepuce.

  • Type II — Partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (excision).

When it is important to distinguish between the major variations that have been documented, the following subdivisions are proposed: Type IIa, removal of the labia minora only;Type IIb, partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora; Type IIc, partial or total removal of the clitoris, the labia minora and the labia majora.

Note also that, in French, the term ‘excision’ is often used as a general term covering all types of female genital mutilation.

  • 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 IIIa, removal and apposition of the labia minora; Type IIIb, removal and apposition of the labia majora.
  • Type IV — All other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, for example: pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterization.

(Source : WHO)

Healing from a typical male circumcision can take two months at the most. In contrast, healing from a typical FGM may take months or even years and often leaves women with medical problems that last a lifetime and psychological after-effects. One such problem being the difficulty in sexual penetration. The scar tissue around the hole becomes rather inelastic making penetration painful and difficult and it can take up to a month for a man to achieve penetration which is often aided with a knife or by the help of a mid-wife under absolute secrecy. Genital Mutilation protects men but puts women at a great risk of urinary tract infections that lead to kidney infections and kidney failure.

So it is clear by now that FGM has no health benefits, then why is it performed? The cause of FGM is an amalgamation of cultural, religious and social causes. Places where FGM is a social convention, the pressure to do what others are doing is a strong motivation to perpetuate this practice. FGM in many communities is supposed to reduce a woman’s libido therefore believed to help her resist illicit sexual acts.FGM is also associated with cultural ideal of femininity and modesty  and purity which include the notion that girls are clean and beautiful after removal of body parts which are considered unclean. Although no religious scripts prescribe this practice, it however has religious support. In India, a small Muslim sub-sect known as the Dawoodi Bohra continues to believe that the removal of the clitoris is the will of God and continue to practice it even today. Estimates suggest 90% of females in the Ismaili Shia Muslim Bohra community in India undergo the trauma.

FGM is a violation of woman and child rights and aims to extend control over a woman’s sexuality. FGM comprises of an unacceptable violation of the rights of the girl child and adult women to their natural sexuality. At the same time as an adult is quite free to submit herself to a ritual or a tradition, a child, having no formed judgment, does not consent, but is simply  forced to undergo the mutilation.

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