Updated: Sep 17
Second-year law student,
University of Mumbai Law Academy.
"EVERY WOMEN HAS THE RIGHT TO BE TREATED WITH RESPECT AND DIGNITY AND NO ONE CAN HUMILIATE OR VERBALLY ABUSE YOU"
What is Female Genital Mutilation?
In 2012, the United Nation's General Assembly had designated February 6th as the "INTERNATIONAL DAY OF ZERO TOLERANCE FOR FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION", to amplify and direct the efforts on the elimination of this practice.
This practice has been widely described using the following three terms:
a. female circumcision,
b. female genital mutilation,
c. female genital cutting.
Female Genital Mutilation (often referred to as FGM) is a destructive operation; it comprises all procedure involving the removal of external female genitalia partly or entirely or other injuries to the female genital organs for non-medical purposes to inhibit a woman's sexual feelings.
This practice certainly has no health benefits for girls and women. It is mostly carried among young girls between infancy and age 15. It is a practice which is irreversible and cruel. FGM is not a traditional cultural practice, but it is child abuse as none of the holy books mentions it. It is there only to control women and girls' bodies, especially their sexuality.
What are the types of FGM?
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has been classified into four main types, as mentioned below:
Type 1- Also known as clitoridectomy, as this type consists of total or partial removal of the outer part of the clitoris and/or its prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).
Type 2- Also known as excision, the outer part of clitoris and labia (the lips that surround the vagina) is partially or totally removed, with or without the excision of the labia major.
Type 3- This one is the most severe form; it is also known as infibulation or pharaonic type. The process consists of narrowing the vaginal orifice (opening in the body such as the nostrils or anus) with the creation of a covering seal by cutting and positioning the labia minor and/or labia majora, with or without the removal of the external part clitoris. To reposition the edges of the wound, the cut areas must be sewn or pinned together (e.g., girls' legs are tied together) for a period of time to make the blanket connection. It is a small opening that allows urine and menstrual blood to escape.
Type 4- This type consists of all the other procedures to the female genitals, including pricking, piercing, cutting, scraping or burning the area for non-medical purposes.
Why is FGM performed on girls and women?
FGM is supported by both men and women, reasons for the practice are often rooted in gender inequality and discrimination against girls and women that is entrenched in traditional social, economic and political structures.
One of the reasons for the existence of FGM till date is due to the smooth appearance of an infibulated vulva, there is also a belief that infibulation increases hygiene.
A survey was conducted in which women stated that the causes of this practice are social acceptance, religion, hygiene, preservation of virginity, the possibility of marriage, and the increase in sexual pleasure for men.
In some societies, FGM is being performed because of myths about female genitalia, such as the beliefs that an uncut clitoris will grow into the size of a penis, or that FGM will increase fertility. Some people also believe that external female genitalia is dirty and ugly.
It also perpetuates harmful gender norms as a girl is cut to ensure her marriageability, or in preparation for her marriage and also to maintain the family's honour.
How many women and girls are affected?
The exact number of girls and women remains unknown who have undergone FGM; it is estimated that at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone FGM in 30 countries, where the practised is concentrated.
The rates of women who have undergone FGM are still increasing, a reflection of global population growth. Girls and women who have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM) live mainly in sub-Saharan Africa and the Arab states. However, female genital mutilation is also practised in some countries in Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America. It is also practised among migrants in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand.
If FGM practices continue at current levels, then approximately 68 million girls will be cut between 2015 and 2030 in 25 countries where it is shown that FGM is routinely practised.
In 2019, it was estimated that 4.1 million girls would be cut. These numbers of girls are cut each year and are projected to rise to 4.6 million girls in the year 2030.
What is Physical and psychological harm?
FGM has no health benefits, and it only results in harm girls and women in many ways. Generally speaking, the risks of FGM can increase with the increasing rate of severity (which here corresponds to the amount of tissue damaged).
The physical and psychological impacts of FGM during different stages of life in girls and women are as follow:
Ø Problems faced at the time of childhood
In many cases, girls have lost their lives as a direct result of being cut. The causes for such deaths are due to the range of complications, including haemorrhage, contracting septicaemia, tetanus, or HIV, due to unsterilised tools. A girl may also go through severe pain, excessive bleeding (haemorrhage), genital tissue swelling, fever, infection, urinary problems, wound healing problems, injury to surrounding genital tissue, shock and many more.
Ø Problems faced at the time of girlhood
After undergoing FGM, a girl can experience difficulty in passing urine and difficulties with menstruation, because her urethra and/or vaginal opening may have been blocked through FGM Types II and III. This can lead to chances of girls being infected and chronic pelvic inflammation. Girls may also suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), anxiety disorder, depression and somatic(physical) complaints (e.g. Pains and aches) with no sign of organic cause.
Studies have also shown that girls who are cut may also suffer educationally. This is because of the health problems resulting from FGM can cause them to miss school, leading to higher drop-out rates and economic disadvantages later in their lives.
Ø Problems faced during marriage and intercourse
With all types of FGM, sex can be painful and traumatic. Women and girls who have undergone FGM Type III will often have to be re-cut to have sex or may experience forced penetration. This is not a onetime experience that women go through, for many women scar tissue will continue to cause pain during sex throughout their lifetimes, whilst there are some possibilities that their partners may also experience pain and trauma during the sex.
After a girl is cut, the chances of being infertile increases, which within some communities may result for her to be abandoned by her husband.
Ø Problems faced during pregnancy and childbirth
FGM has a direct impact on maternal and infant mortality. Women who have undergone FGM Type III are 70% more likely to suffer haemorrhage through giving birth, are twice as likely to die in childbirth and have a higher likelihood of stillbirth due to obstructed labour. Women who have undergone FGM Type III are also more likely to experience other complications, including obstetric fistula, foetal asphyxia, and perineal tears.
How FGM violates human rights
Female genital mutilation of any type is recognised internationally as a barbaric and harmful practice, and also a form of violence against women and girls.
The practice of FGM violates the right of girls and women to equality and non-discrimination, including the elimination of violence against women.
he practises of FGM violates the rights of children as defined in the United Nation Convention on the rights of the child (CRC):
1. Article 2- The right to be free from discrimination.
2. Article 19(1)- The right to be protected from all forms of mental and physical violence and maltreatment.
3. Article 24- The right to highest attainable standard of health.
4. Article 37- The right of freedom from torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
The link between FGM and Child-Marriage
FGM has been frequently linked to marriageability and is thought to be related to the marriage of girls younger than the age of 18 years, also known as child marriage. In some communities, a girl is cut to make sure she can get married or to prepare for marriage. These communities also believe that once a girl is cut, she is considered ready to marry.
This, in turn, can lead to increased instances of early pregnancy before the girl is physically mature or has reached the age of puberty, which can lead her to experience further physical and psychological problems.
These practices also threaten the health of girl and women in Sub-Saharan Africa, their development and quality of life.
Both of them are driven by gender inequality and social expectation of what it means to be a girl. FGM and child marriage is only there to control women and girls' bodies, especially their sexuality, which is often linked to cultural, religious or traditional social norms.
Some parents also believe in Child Marriage and FGM to be a way of protecting a girl from pre-marital sex and secure a safer future for her daughters. However, in reality, both of them are a violation of girl's rights which have devastating consequences for their health, education and safety.
Both the practices make girls more likely to drop-out from school, and face violence, health problems and experience complications during pregnancy.
"Together, we can eliminate female genital mutilation by the end of the year 2030. Doing so will have a positive ripple effect on the health, education and economic advancement of girls and women."
Ending Female Genital Mutilation by 2030
Till today's date, many UN agencies have stepped up their efforts in order to the worldwide end of this practice by the end of the year 2030, and many young women and girls have actively advocated the practice.
This day helps us in bringing awareness of this practice and to reinforce commitment and pursuit of advocacy and activism towards the complete elimination of the practice of FGM for the upcoming generation's wellbeing. Mark of this day is also considered for many young men and women to collectively reflect on the protection of the rights of young women and girls, and most importantly to ensure the removal of structural, cultural and institutional practices that inhibit their development.
The empowerment of girls is widely recognised as the most critical key to development, including to ensure that quality education is accessible and inclusive.
To promote the elimination of female genital mutilation (FGM), coordinated and systematic efforts by all the nations are needed, and most importantly they must engage the whole communities and focus on human rights, gender equality, sex-education and attention to the needs of women and girls who are the survivors and the victims of this practice.
Ending all forms of unfair treatment, discrimination and elimination of every form of violence against women and girls including all harmful practices such as early and forced marriages, and FGM are priority envisioned to be abolished by 2030.
How to successfully eradicate FGM?
Eradicating the practise of FGM globally is not a process that can be done easily, but this process has already begun. There is anti-FGM legislation practised in the majority of countries where the practice is very prominent; anti-FGM organisations are focusing on educating people in communities about the harm that FGM causes to women. Initial efforts involved in the process is considered to be adequate. Nevertheless, in order to accelerate and improve this process, the groups which are directly involved with educating communities about FGM and its alternatives must be groups that have ties to the community. They must also have a deep understanding of how the community works so that the community is not offended by any outsiders while trying to change its cultural traditions. Global awareness about the practice of FGM must be spread by anti-FGM activist groups who are willing to come forward and tell their stories so that it will help the legislators to push stronger and stricter anti-FGM legislation. This combination of actions will help in producing the most effective way to eliminate the practice of FGM from every existing culture across the world.
Disclaimer: Kindly note that the views and opinions expressed are of the author, and not Law Colloquy.