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An estimated 100 to 140 million girls and women worldwide are dealing with the consequences of female genital mutilation (FGM).
Also known as female circumcision or genital cutting, the World Health Organisation (WHO) defines FGM as “all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injuries to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons”.
The practice is a mostly cultural tradition performed across central Africa, in the southern Sahara, and in parts of the Middle East. Religious beliefs, social norms and superstitions also play a role.
Some communities in these parts of the world consider FGM a necessary part of raising a girl and preparing her for marriage. They believe circumcision helps suppress a woman’s sexual desire providing a higher chance that she will remain pure before she marries, or not engage in any “illicit” acts. Presenting your daughter as a 'virgin bride' is essential when finding a suitable husband.
Traditional circumcisers usually perform the FGM procedure, but in recent years there has been an increase in health care professionals carrying them out in the communities as well.
The girl or woman is seen as “pure”, “clean” or “beautiful” after removing body parts that are seen as “unclean”.
FGM is carried out on a girl between infancy and 15 years old. In Africa about 92 million girls over the age of 10 have undergone some form of genital mutilation, according to WHO.
The common belief that genital mutilation benefits a woman is far outweighed by the physical consequences of the procedure. It has no health benefits whatsoever, and can cause severe bleeding, problems with childbirth later in life, and can create problems when urinating.
The international community has been rallying against the practice for years.
It is officially recognised as a violation of the human rights of the girl or woman; because the procedure is carried out at such a young age, many don’t have a choice in the matter.
There’s no denying the topic is a hard one. But the United Nations, along with organisations like WHO are working to bring this issue into the open.
Further research into the consequences of FGM is also being done in the hopes that education can reverse the cultural idealisms of this ancient practice.
By Dominique Johnson