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