About FGM

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The facts   The law   The harm

The Facts

What is FGM?

FGM is short for female genital mutilation. It is when the female genital organs are cut or injured for non-medical reasons. It has no health benefits and is very harmful.

FGM is also known as “sunna” or “female circumcision”.

Who is at risk of FGM?

FGM is mostly carried out on girls between babyhood and age 15, and occasionally on adult women, from FGM communities.

The communities who practice FGM live mainly in 28 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia and in other countries such as the UK where people have migrated from these areas.

In Oxford, communities that are most at risk of FGM originate from Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, the Gambia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Sudan. Other girls and women at risk come from Guinea Bissauan, Indonesian, Kenyan, Kurdish, Malaysian, Nigerian and Yemeni communities.

More than 200 million girls and women alive today have been cut in countries where FGM is concentrated. In Africa alone, some 3 million girls are at risk of being cut every year, that’s over 8000 girls per day. Some 137,000 women and girls in England and Wales are affected by FGM. It is estimated that 23,000 girls living in the UK are cut every year.

Girls and women living in Oxford have undergone FGM and data are being collected to try to estimate the number of girls at risk.

Who does FGM?

Usually a girl’s parents or extended family are responsible for arranging FGM abroad. Other family members, such as grandmothers, often have a central role in deciding whether a girl is cut. FGM may be carried out by an older woman who plays other roles in the community such as attending childbirths. Girls are often cut without anaesthetic using basic tools such as knives or razor blades.

In some countries, doctors perform FGM as an operation. While a doctor can help avoid the short-term physical risks involved in FGM, this is not always the case. A girl died after being cut by a doctor in Egypt for example. In addition, girls and women can be left with long-term physical and psychological pain and harm. FGM has no medical benefits whatsoever and it damages the body. It is also a breach of a child’s human right not to be harmed.

Why does FGM happen?

FGM is performed mostly for cultural reasons. FGM communities believe that girls have to be cut to prepare them for marriage and adulthood. Cutting is intended to reduce libido and sexual pleasure. FGM-practicing communities believe that without FGM they will not be able to control girls and women and prevent them from having sexual relationships outside of marriage. FGM is therefore justified on the basis that it will preserve “honour” to the family. In type 3 FGM the vaginal opening is almost completely sewn together after the girl is cut.

Some FGM communities mistakenly believe there is a religious requirement to cut their daughters. It is against the laws of all major world religions. It is not “sunna” (meaning “usual practice”) in Islam and the majority of Muslims do NOT practice FGM.

FGM communities also believe that girls and women are “clean” and “beautiful” if they are cut. There is also the mistaken belief that women are more fertile if they are cut, although in reality FGM decreases fertility and makes childbirth risky for both babies and mothers.

What is wrong with FGM?

It can be extremely harmful to girls and women physically, sexually and emotionally. Complications from FGM can even lead to death.

  • It is illegal.
  • It is against religious laws.
  • It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes.
  • It is child abuse in the UK.
  • It violates the human rights of girls and women.

The law

If you are being pressured into having your daughters cut you can say,

NO!

Because ANY form of FGM is AGAINST THE LAW.

This means that the removal of part of the clitoris or clitoral hood is also ILLEGAL.

  • It is against the law in the UK.
  • It is against universal human rights law.
  • It is against religious laws.

If you break the UK law you could go to prison for up to 14 YEARS and during this time your daughters would be without their parents.

There is no way around this law.

You will be breaking UK law even if your daughters are cut abroad, someone else cuts them, a health professional cuts them, your daughters agree to it or they carry it out on themselves.

The UK law is called The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003. If you are too scared to say “no” to family members you can get support from agencies to help you protect your daughters. HELPLINE NUMBERS

You can obtain a small leaflet to carry with you about the UK law in various languages from the Home Office (tel: 0870 241 4680).

Or you can download the leaflet here

The human rights law is contained in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and a UN Resolution in 2012 to eliminate FGM. Africa has also declared that FGM should be eliminated in the African Charter. There are already laws against FGM in 24 African countries. Countries across the globe are taking steps to end FGM.

In Christianity, Judaism and Islam, there are clear messages about the body being created as God intended. All the major world religions emphasise the importance of girls’ and women’s rights and that you must not harm the body that you have been given.

So you know the law.

YOUR KNOWLEDGE IS YOUR POWER

The harm

What is Female Genital Mutilation?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines FGM as all procedures involving partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

Types of FGM Female Genital Mutilation Classification
Type 1 Consists of partial or total removal of the clitoris and or its prepuce. Type I is also known as clitoridectomy.
Type 2 The clitoris and labia minora are partially or totally removed. Excision of the labia majora may or may not also occur.
Type 3 Infibulation or pharaonic type is considered the most severe. This involves narrowing of the vaginal orifice and the creation of a covering seal. The seal is created by suturing or holding the cut areas together. The girl’s legs may be bound together during healing. A small opening is left in the vagina for urine and menstrual blood to come out. The clitoris may or may not be removed.
Type 4 All other procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical reasons: pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterising.

Some of the physical, psychological and sexual impacts of FGM are:

Immediate physical impact of FGM:

  • Severe pain
  • Shock
  • Difficulty passing urine
  • Infections
  • Injury to nearby genital tissue

Death can be caused by severe bleeding leading to haemorrhagic shock, neurogenic shock caused by pain and trauma, overwhelming infection and septicaemia.

Longer-term physical impact of FGM:

  • Chronic pain
  • Chronic pelvic infections
  • Development of cysts
  • Abscesses
  • Back pain
  • Genital ulcers
  • Excessive scar tissue formation
  • Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
  • Bacterial Vaginosis
  • Genital Herpes
  • Infection of the reproductive system
  • Infertility
  • Risks to mothers’ and babies’ health and life during pregnancy and birth

Psychological impact of FGM:

  • Decreased sexual enjoyment
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Traumatic memories
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Memory loss

Sexual impact of FGM:

  • Fear of sexual intercourse
  • Pain and bleeding
  • The male partner can suffer from pain and bleeding

Medical help in Oxford

If you are experiencing complications from being cut, you can seek medical advice from your GP. You can speak to your GP about a referral to the Oxford Rose Clinic, a specialist FGM clinic based at the John Radcliffe Hospital. This clinic also accepts self-referrals (via email: oxfordrose.clinic@nhs.net). This is a confidential service open to pregnant and non-pregnant women that is run by a female doctor. It is held monthly. The clinic also offers a deinfibulation (“opening”) service for women who have had Type 3 FGM. Click here to learn more about how the clinic can help (film from the app, Let’s talk FGM) and click here for a leaflet about the clinic.

References

Nowark M (2010) UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. World Health Organization

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