Facts About Female Genital Mutilation

Wednesday February 6, 2019

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Photo Amnesty International

The World Health Organization defines FGM as any procedure that involves partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. The procedure [that is forced upon minors is performed with or without using anesthesia] is widely practiced and is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It’s a manifestation of gender discrimination and violates a person’s rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death. [1]

FGM not only has no health benefits for girls or women, but it also has harmful effects on their health. It can cause severe bleeding, and as it ‘interferes with the natural functions of girls’ and women’s bodies.’ [2] It may also cause complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths.

The practice has no clear origin or date for when it started. It is practiced among both Muslims and Christians communities, which challenges the voices promoting it as an Islamic obligation. Not only Christians living in Muslim countries practice it, but also in African countries which are predominantly Christians. It was also practiced by the Ethiopian Jews known as Beta Israel of Ethiopia (the so-called Falashas) [3], but the practice ended among this community after immigration to Israel. [4]

According to a statistical report published by the UNICEF in 2016, at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries, half of the girls and women who have been cut live in three countries – Egypt, Ethiopia and Indonesia[5]

The practice is highly concentrated in ‘a swath of countries from the Atlantic coast to the Horn of Africa, in areas of the Middle East such as Iraq and Yemen and in some countries in Asia like Indonesia, with wide variations in prevalence. The practice is almost universal in Somalia, Guinea and Djibouti, with levels around 90 per cent.’ [6]At least 200 million girls and women alive today living in 30 countries have undergone FGM/C.

FGM is practiced either because of religious beliefs or social traditions, which both are deeply embedded in these societies thus becomes harder to eliminate.

Key facts [7]
• Female genital mutilation (FGM) includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
• The procedure has no health benefits for girls and women.
• Procedures can cause severe bleeding as well as complications in childbirth increased risk of newborn deaths.
• About 140 million girls and women worldwide are currently living with the consequences of FGM.
• FGM is mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and age 15.
• In Africa an estimated 101 million girls 10 years old and above have undergone FGM.

FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children. The practice also violates a person’s rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death. 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.

Who is at risk?
Procedures are mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and age 15, and occasionally on adult women. In Africa, more than three million girls have been estimated to be at risk for FGM annually.

The practice is most common in the western, eastern, and north-eastern regions of Africa, in some countries in Asia and the Middle East, and among migrants from these areas.

Cultural, religious and social causes
The causes of female genital mutilation include a mix of cultural, religious and social factors within families and communities.
• FGM is often considered a necessary part of raising a girl properly, and a way to prepare her for adulthood and marriage.
• FGM is often motivated by beliefs about what is considered proper sexual behavior, linking procedures to premarital virginity and marital fidelity. FGM is in many communities believed to reduce a woman’s desire for sexual acts.
• Though no religious scripts prescribe the practice, practitioners often believe the practice has religious support.
• Religious leaders take varying positions with regard to FGM: some promote it, some consider it irrelevant to religion, and others contribute to its elimination.

WHO efforts to eliminate female genital mutilation focus on:
• Building evidence: generating knowledge about the causes and consequences of the practice, how to eliminate it, and how to care for those who have experienced FGM;
• Increasing advocacy: developing publications and advocacy tools for international, regional and local efforts to end FGM within a generation.

WHO is particularly concerned about the increasing trend for medically trained personnel to perform FGM. WHO strongly urges health professionals not to perform such procedures.

References:

[1] Female genital mutilation Fact Sheet, Updated February 2017, http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs241/en/

[2] Female genital mutilation Fact Sheet, Updated February 2017, http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs241/en/,

[3] Ethiopian Jewish Women, by Shalva Weil, https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/ethiopian-jewish-women,

[4] Newspaper Publishes Lie About Jews and Female Circumcision, by Tova Dvorin, 03/06/14,  http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/181326

[5] Press Release,New statistical report on female genital mutilation shows harmful practice is a global concern – UNICEF, February 5, 2016,
https://www.unicef.org/media/media_90033.html

[6]  https://data.unicef.org/topic/child-protection/female-genital-mutilation-and-cutting/#

[7] Female Gentile Mutilation World Health Organization https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/female-genital-mutilation

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