CAROLINE DE COCK
WHAT IS FEMALE GENDER MUTILATION (FGM)?
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is any action that intentionally damages female genitals for no medical reason. This includes piercing, scraping, burning and incising the genital area. This is also known as female “cutting”, female circumcision and by traditional terms; sunna, tahur, gudiin, megrez and khitan.
FGM is performed at the onset of puberty, generally between the ages of 12 and 14, prior to marriage. In some cultures the operation is conducted on girl babies as young as 7 or 8 days old. This has no health benefits but instead has a number of negative physical and psychological impacts.
FGM is still practiced in over 28 countries in Africa and the Middle East with over 98% of women in Senegal having undergone FGM. Over 2 million women are subjected to FGM worldwide each year, despite being internationally recognised as a human rights violation.
WHY IS FGM STILL PRACTISED?
The most common reasons for continuing the practice of FGM are religion, tradition and health reasons, including increased fertility, cleanliness and beauty. Whilst remaining culturally sensitive these validations are unfounded. Neither the Koran nor the Bible recommend or demand FGM and the practice predates both Islam and Christianity. In terms of health; hygiene and fertility are both reduced following FGM. FGM also increases risks of infection and interference with the normal flow of urine and menstrual blood causing incontinence and pain.
Other myths that try to explain FGM include that a baby who touches an uncut clitoris during childbirth will be born with fluid on the brain, a man will become impotent if his penis touches a clitoris and that the milk of an uncut mother is poisonous. These superstitions are disproven by Western, uncut mothers and couples.
THE DAMAGING EFFECTS OF FGM
Immediately following FGM there is always severe pain, swelling and bleeding. If uncontrolled this can lead to death from excessive bleeding and shock. Additionally, the risk of infection is extremely high, especially when using unsterilized equipment in surroundings that are not completely clean.
Long-term impacts include pain when passing urine and menstrual blood due to scar tissues narrowing or intentionally narrowing or closing the vagina. FGM increases the chance of urinary tract infections as urine might be trapped or may cause incontinence. It can also lead to pain during sex or may require further cutting to allow sexual intercourse to take place and again for childbirth. This further increases immediate and long term risks. Repeated infection can then even cause infertility. FGM can lead to complications during childbirth as the birth canal is narrowed increasing the likelihood of stillbirth or the mother needing a caesarean.
Psychologically the pain from FGM can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder, severe distress during sexual intercourse or childbirth, depression, anxiety and night terrors and sleep problems. The immediate and long-term dangers as well as the revelation that a lot of cases that try to justify FGM are actually myths compile to make a case against FGM. We should protect our mothers, our women, girls, daughters and sisters to make sure they can contribute to the future of our society.