International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (FGM)
CW: This post contains descriptions of abuse and gender-based violence, specifically genital cutting and mutilation.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) happens in communities around the world. It has harmed more than 200 million women, girls, and other people who have a vulva, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO). Feb. 6 marks the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, a continued call for attention to stop this violent form of abuse.
What is female genital mutilation?
UNICEF defines female genital mutilation, also called female genital cutting, as "a procedure performed on a woman or girl to alter or injure her genital organs for non-medical reasons. It almost always involves partial or total removal of the external genitalia. Female genital mutilation constitutes a violation of the fundamental human rights of girls and women."
There are different types of FGM, including cutting or removal of the clitoris and labia, narrowing of the vaginal opening, or other injuries.
Why is female genital mutilation practiced?
There are many justifications for this practice, but it’s important to note that FGM is never performed for medical purposes. Instead, it harms the physical, emotional, and sexual health of survivors.
In some cases, groups practice female genital mutilation as a rite of passage between childhood and adulthood.
In many communities, the practice is believed to ensure the future marriage of girls and the honor of their families. It’s also sometimes a requirement for future inheritance rights.
Some communities support female genital mutilation as a way to control girls' sexuality and ensure their virginity. In some places, it’s believed that a woman's sexual appetite will be insatiable unless their genitals are injured.
Some people mutilate the genitals of girls, women, and people who have a vulva for aesthetic reasons — to make it "look prettier" — or even out of fear that the clitoris will grow into a penis.
While many associate FGM with religion, no religious scriptures require it.
What are the consequences of female genital mutilation?
Female genital mutilation can cause blood loss, infection, and increase the risk of HIV. The instruments used for FGM and the environment in which it’s performed are typically not sterile.
According to UNFPA, women who have undergone some form of FGM have a higher risk of needing a cesarean section, suffering a postpartum hemorrhage, having obstructed labor, requiring a longer hospital stay, and dying as a result of childbirth compared to women who have not undergone FGM.
FGM also causes psychological effects, like childhood trauma, distrust of caregivers, anxiety, depression, and long-term sexual dysfunction.
How can we end female genital mutilation?
Although the practice of female genital mutilation has decreased over time, there’s still much work to be done.
According to UNICEF, it’s necessary to combat the root causes of gender inequality and work for the social and economic empowerment of women in order to end female genital mutilation.
It’s also essential to work with respected people in the communities where FGM is practiced, like religious and social leaders, since female genital mutilation is often part of the local traditions. Whether or not a community abandons the practice is a result of social acceptance or rejection.