In Focus: Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

"My legs were completely numb and the pain between them was so intense. I wished I would die. I felt my poor mother hold me in her arms - my memory ends at this instant until I opened my eyes and the killer woman was gone. I was lying on the ground close to a rock, and my legs were tied together with strips of cloth binding me from my ankles to my hips so I could not move. I turned my head towards the rock - it was drenched with blood as if an animal had been slaughtered there. I meat - my sex - lying there undisturbed drying in the sun. I thought the agony was over until I needed to pee..."

Female genital mutilation (FGM) – also called female genital cutting or female circumcision – is the partial or total removal of external female genitalia for non-medical purposes. Often conducted for religious, social, or cultural reasons, the process has no health benefits for the 0-15 year-old girls on whom it is performed. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) reports that over 125 million girls and women have been subjected to FGM in 29 countries of the Middle East and Africa alone.

FGM is an act of sexual violence. Most girls suffer this procedure in infancy or early childhood in communities where the ritual has a long-standing history, and is therefore seldom challenged. The World Health Organisation (WHO) classifies FGM into four major types: clitoridectomy, excision, infibulation, and all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical reasons, including pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterising (burning) the genital area. Though it may be performed surgically, the effects of FGM are equivalent to that of any act of sexual violence: women and girls endure shame and socially propagated degradation, and they often experience severe pain, shock, infection, infertility, and complications in sexual intercourse and childbirth, as well as an increased risk of newborn deaths. 

The practice of FGM is a human rights violation. It not only highlights a stark inequality between the sexes, but it also functions as an extreme and violent form of discrimination against women and girls (gender-based violence). This is because the practice originated in beliefs of what is considered appropriate sexual behaviour for women, with its social purpose being to ensure premarital virginity and fidelity. Many societies still consider it a foolproof method of suppressing the female libido. During infibulation for example, a seal is created to narrow the vaginal opening. This seal needs to be cut open later to allow for sexual intercourse and childbirth, which poses serious longterm medical risks. The psychological trauma women and girls suffer during this procedure is unbearable.

"When my sister was ready for her "special time," the gypsy woman circumcised her, and she bled to death. I do not blame my parents. My mother was simply doing what had been done to her and her mother, and my father did not understand the suffering he was inflicting on me." 

Like any form of sexual violence that exists during peace time, conflict situations can exacerbate the occurrence of FGM. In many cases, soldiers and militia groups force one community's gender policing practices onto another, perpetuating the cycle of sexual, emotional, and societal violence. In times of conflict and emergency, many families may feel that it is necessary to subject their daughters to FGM in order to marry them off and offset the effects of population displacement. As law and security forces weaken and breakdown during periods of conflict and violence, incidences of sexual violence may occur unabated; practices like FGM are often treated as a second-class crime or an inevitable byproduct of prevailing cultural norms. 

"I hate the word victim because it is so helpless but when this woman butchered me that was exactly what I was - a victim. But later as a grown woman I was no longer a victim - I could take action."

Youth to End Sexual Violence echoes the call to action made by the Special Envoy to UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Angelina Jolie, at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, “...our response must never again be that these things simply happen. It can never be that peace is more important than justice – or that money is in short supply – or that there are other priorities.”

#EndFGM. #EndTheSilence. 

Quotes are from an anti-FGM advocate, sharing her story during the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict

Take action against FGM and join Plan UK's "Because I am a Girl" Campaign here

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