Women's Issues

Female Genital Mutilation: 4 Reasons FGM Is Practised & Why Help End It

Female genital mutilation (FGM) or female genital cutting (FGC) refers to “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” The practice of Female Genital Mutilation is centered around century old cultural beliefs, some of which will be discussed in today’s article.

female genital mutilation fgm
Meaza Garedu, 14, Ethiopia. Meaza was subjected to Female Genital Mutilation FGM when she was 10 years old and now campaigns against the practice. “In my village there is one girl who is younger than I am who has not been cut because I discussed the issue with her parents,” Meaza said. “I told them how much the operation had hurt me, how it had traumatized me and made me not trust my own parents. They decided that they did not want this to happen to their daughter.” Source: UNICEF

4 common reasons why Female Genital Mutilation FGM is practised


Boke, 12, stands in the doorway of the home she shares with her husband and
mother-in-law, in Rebu, a village in Tarime district, Mara region, Tanzania. Several months earlier, Boke was subjected to FGM/C. UNICEF photo

1 – Rite of passage into womanhood, meaning the young girl is now qualified to be called a “woman”. In countries such as Kenya and Senegal where FGM is considered a rite of passage, cutting is performed during the puberty stages of a young girl’s life, traditionally in an elaborate ceremony. In other communities, Female Genital Mutilation is performed when girls are much younger, sometimes weeks after birth. Most girls are cut before the age of 15.

2- Female Genital Mutilation or FGM is performed on virgins to ensure that young girls are presented to their husbands “untouched” and “clean”, ready to continue their lives as “good wives” and caring mothers. A social consequence of Female Genital Mutilation FGM is thus early child marriage. In rare cases where it is discovered during cutting that the hymen of a girl is no longer intact and virginity has been lost, she is publicly shamed and in the old days even stoned.

3- Genital Mutilation curbs a girl’s feelings of sexual pleasure, ensuring that girls and women remain chaste and “proper” all their lives. Hence it’s a form of control, of regulating female behavior.

4- Female Genital Mutilation FGM is a customary rule of behavior, hence a social norm that has existed over many years. Considered to be extremely personal, genital mutilation of females is seldom discussed in public. Communities continue to circumcise girls because everybody else is doing it – their parents and their parents’ parents practiced FGM, so they pass it on. Those who turn away from the practice run the risk of being ostracized by the community.

Beliefs surround Female Genital Mutilation FGM

Shrouded in silence and blinded by tradition, most victims never get to understand that they have options. Addressing common misconceptions surrounding the practice of Female Genital Mutilation FGM amongst Egyptian woman, Linda Burstyn writes in the Atlantic Magazine:

“Many of the immigrant mothers who are making these decisions about their daughters [whether or not to have them circumcised] know little or nothing about their own anatomy. They are told that if the clitoris is left alone, it will grow and drag on the ground; that if their daughters are left uncircumcised, they will be wild, and will crave men; that no man from their home country will marry them uncircumcised (although many African men say that they prefer uncircumcised women for sex and marriage); that circumcision aids in menstruation and childbirth (although the opposite is true in both cases); and that it is a religious—usually Islamic—requirement (although none of the major Islamic texts calls directly for FGM).”

Female Genital Mutilation FGM – is unnecessary

Female Genital Mutilation FGM mutilates. It traumatizes. It is hurtful and most importantly, unnecessary.

The dire consequences of FGM are in most cases lifelong; ranging from severe bleeding and problems urinating, to (in many cases) death.

Later on in life, girls may develop cysts, infections, infertility, experience pain during sex, complications in childbirth, some even becoming barren, unable to bear children. There is psychological trauma involved.

Female Genital Mutilation FGM is often performed by traditional practitioners and also in medical establishments at the request of family members.

Read | FGM Ceremony: Pokot Traditional Rite to Womanhood in Photos

According to the UN: Female genital mutilation FGM is most common in 29 countries across Africa and the Middle East. The highest rates (prevalence levels above 90%) have been recorded in Somalia, Guinea, Djibouti and Egypt, while in countries like Cameroon and Uganda, only 1% of girls and women are affected by FGM.

Efforts by various humanitarian organizations to end female genital mutilation FGM albeit being resisted in some communities, have seen successful results in others.

2013 UNICEF report shows that in Gambia: 82% of girls and women who have undergone FGM/C think the practice should continue, while on the up-side, in Burkina Faso – 76% of girls and women have been cut, but only 9% favour the continuation of FGM/C.

Also according to the same report, “Prevalence has dropped by as much as almost half among adolescent girls in Benin, the Central African Republic, Iraq, Liberia and Nigeria”.

The two main reasons attributed to the drop in Female Genital Mutilation FGM are (1) most girls and women who have undergone the practice do not see benefits to it, and (2) more mothers who are becoming aware that FGM/C can lead to their daughters’ deaths are more willing to turn away. These findings lead to the conclusion that a better understanding of consequences is an important factor in helping end female genital mutilation FGM.

Watch | FGM Documentary: The Futa in West Africa are saying “NO”


There are options for women who have undergone FGM. Learn how California based Dr Marci Bowers is helping reverse female genital mutilation FGM:

By sharing articles like this one and having conversations on ‘taboo’ topics such as Female Genital Mutilation FGM in our circles/communities, we can each help make a difference. After all, knowledge is power…do you agree?

Lema is on Twitter: @LemaNsah; website: www.lemaabeng.com


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