The challenge is to let people – men and women – have their voices heard on the issue, UNICEF says
More than 30 million girls are at risk of being subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM) over the next decade, a study by UNICEF has found.
It said more than 125 million girls and women alive today had undergone a procedure now opposed by the majority in countries where it was practised. Ritual cutting of girls’ genitals is practised by some African, Middle Eastern and Asian communities in the belief it protects a woman’s virginity.
UNICEF wants action to end FGM.
The UN Children Fund survey, described as the most comprehensive to date on the issue, found that support for FGM was declining amongst both men and women.
FGM “is a violation of a girl’s rights to health, well-being and self-determination,” said Unicef deputy executive director Geeta Rao Gupta,
“What is clear from this report is that legislation alone is not enough.”
‘Speak out loudly’
Ethiopian teenager Meaza Garedu was subjected to female genital mutilation when she was 10 years old, and now campaigns against the practice.
“In my village there is one girl who is younger than I am who has not been cut because I discussed the issue with her parents,” the 14-year-old said. “I told them how much the operation had hurt me, how it had traumatised me and made me not trust my own parents.
“They decided that they did not want this to happen to their daughter.”
The report, ‘Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A statistical overview and exploration of the dynamics of change’, was released in Washington DC. The study, which pulled together 20 years of data from the 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where FGM is still practised, found girls were less likely to be cut than they were some 30 years ago.
They were three times less likely than their mothers to have been cut in Kenya and Tanzania, and rates had dropped by almost half in Benin, the Central African Republic, Iraq, Liberia and Nigeria.
But FGM remains almost universal in Somalia, Guinea, Djibouti and Egypt and there was little discernible decline in Chad, Gambia, Mali, Senegal, Sudan or Yemen, the study found.
However, it did find that most girls and women, and a significant number of boys and men, opposed the practice. In Chad, Guinea and Sierra Leone more men than women wanted to see an end to the practice.
“The challenge now is to let girls and women, boys and men speak out loudly and clearly and announce they want this harmful practice abandoned,” said Ms Rao Gupta.
The report recommends opening up the practice to greater public scrutiny so that entrenched social attitudes to it can be challenged.
In some communities FGM, also known as female circumcision, is seen as a traditional ritual used culturally to ensure virginity and to make a woman marriageable.
It typically involves procedures that alter or injure female genital organs and is often carried out by traditional circumcisers, who play other central roles in communities.
The dangers of FGM include severe bleeding, problems urinating, infections, infertility and increased risk of newborn deaths in childbirth.
Country Prevalence Country Prevalence
NOTE: DATA FROM THE REPUBLIC OF THE SUDAN ONLY. DATA NOT COLLECTED FROM SOUTH SUDAN. SOURCE: UNICEF
Somalia 98% Ivory Coast 36%
Guinea 96% Kenya 27%
Djibouti 93% Nigeria 27%
Egypt 91% Senegal 26%
Eritrea 89% Central African Republic 24%
Mali 89% Yemen 23%
Sierra Leone 88% Tanzania 15%
Sudan* 88% Benin 13%
Burkina Faso 76% Iraq 8%
The Gambia 76% Ghana 4%
Ethiopia 74% Togo 4%
Mauritania 69% Niger 2%
Liberia 66% Cameroon 1%
Guinea-Bissau 50% Uganda 1%
What is female genital mutilation?
It’s one of the most political areas of women’s health. Worldwide it’s estimated that well over 120 million women have been subjected to it. Supporters of the practice say it’s an important part of cultural and religious life, and some compare it to the practice of male circumcision that is more widely accepted in the Western world, but opponents say that not only is it potentially life-threatening – it’s also an extreme form of oppression of women.
In some countries where it’s more widely practised it’s officially illegal – those who persist in the practice in Senegal will now face a prison term of between one and five years, for example. But it’s still carried out quietly, within the family and out of sight of officials.
Female circumcision is mainly carried out in western and southern Asia, the Middle East and large areas of Africa. It’s also known to take place among immigrant communities in the USA, Canada, France, Australia and Britain, where it’s illegal. In total it’s estimated that as many as two million girls a year are subjected to genital mutilation.
There are three main types of circumcision:
1. The removal of the tip of the clitoris
2. Total removal of the clitoris and surrounding labia
3. The removal of the clitoris and labia and the sewing up of the vagina, leaving only a small opening for urine and menstrual blood – a process known as infibulation
So drastic is the mutilation involved in the latter operation that young brides have to be cut open to allow penetration on their wedding night and are customarily sewn up afterwards.
No health benefits, only harm
FGM has no health benefits, and it harms girls and women in many ways. It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and interferes with the natural functions of girls’ and women’s bodies.
Immediate complications can include severe pain, shock, haemorrhage (bleeding), tetanus or sepsis (bacterial infection), urine retention, open sores in the genital region and injury to nearby genital tissue.
Long-term consequences can include:
recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections; cysts; infertility; an increased risk of childbirth complications and newborn deaths; the need for later surgeries.
For example, the FGM procedure that seals or narrows a vaginal opening (type 3 above) needs to be cut open later to allow for sexual intercourse and childbirth. Sometimes it is stitched again several times, including after childbirth, hence the woman goes through repeated opening and closing procedures, further increasing and repeated both immediate and long-term risks.
Research shows that, if practising communities themselves decide to abandon FGM, the practice can be eliminated very rapidly.
It’s really amazing that whenever GFM gets discussed, people are mostly concerned about the physical/medical harms without referring to the social and psychological effect of such terrible crime. FGM is basically done to females to suppress their sexual desire and dominate them. A girl tied up by her own family members and gone through such terrible pain and humiliation of being exposed and cut in preparation for a future marriage gets easily dominated as “inferior” for the rest of her life.. unlike the circumcision of boys which happens in a very early age, and which is celebrated by the family and neighborhood, GFM is done secretly and is meant to be an” immunity” against desire and “sin” that the girl would stay a virgin, but it’s also meant to deprive her of her natural right of sexual satisfaction or even responsiveness after marriage, turning her into a reproduction machine.
In such a culture, men take over by the power of the community and women lose their self esteem. There is little to no information on the psychological effect this has on an individual, those who witness the violation and/or perform the act.
However, I was able to find a little information.
Victims are likely to have psychiatric disorders, anxiety, somatisation ( The production of recurrent and multiple medical symptoms with no discernible organic cause), phobias, low self esteem, and depression. Retrieved from a Norwegian 2010 report.
Also, note the average age of FGM victims is infancy to age 15.
I find it hard to believe the psychological effects are not deeper, more severe, and diverse than what’s listed above. Also, I am compelled to believe that many girls commit suicide as a result of fear, depression and/or anxiety due to FGM (that is my opinion. I couldn’t find any data to back this up).
There is a clear need for research on the psychological impacts of FGM.