International community aims to end female genital cutting

There are 125 million woman living with FGC, and every year an estimated 3 million more girls are at high risk of experiencing the procedure. International organizations such as the World Health Organization and the United Nations are seeking an end to the practice. (Photo: Somali women protesting against FGC)

In the Middle East and Africa, many infant girls and young woman experience a cultural ritual that goes by many names. Female genital cutting (FGC), female genital mutilation (FGM) and female circumcision are all terms used to describe the process of removing female’s external genitalia. While the proper terminology is debated, many African governments and Middle Eastern countries are trying to put an end to this cultural idea that genitalia removal is necessary, though they are facing the challenge of overcoming a ritual lineage that predates the common era.

The term “female circumcision” has been rejected by woman and children’s rights advocates due to its inaccurate correlation to male circumcision. These groups argue that this comparison is a mistaken depiction, because unlike male circumcision, FGC has no health benefits, impairs fertility, removes sexual pleasure and inflicts lifelong symptoms of pain and health risks.

FGC is the preferred classification over “female genital mutilation,” because of the insensitivity of labeling the women as “mutilated.” Since FGM is a cultural practice, the parents doing the cutting have the intentions of social acceptance, marital opportunities and spiritual cleanliness, not mutilation.

FGC originated in African tribes and spread to the Middle East. Indonesia, Malaysia and India have significant populations of the practice as well. Through migration, FGC has popped up across the globe in Australia, North America and Europe. It is commonly believe that FGC is correlated with one particular religion; however, the practice has been associated with Christians, Muslims and Jews.

Many people assume that FGC is an ancient practice similar to Chinese women footbinding. However, it is very much alive and is expanding to further countries and generations. In the first half of the 1900’s, some American and European surgeons practiced female circumcision. It was believed to be a cure for psychological disorders, marital problems and other radical medial theories.

Today there are 125 million women living with FGC, and every year an estimated 3 million more girls are at high risk of experiencing the procedure. There are 29 countries known for widely practicing FGC. In Somalia, 97.8 percent of the female population is living with FGC, and in Egypt 91.1 percent of women are experiencing the practice. For countries like Australia who have 100,000 immigrants that were born in countries of highly concentrated FGC practice, there is a high risk for the practice to continue. Advocacy against FGC has become important to many non-practicing countries to prevent the endorsement of this cultural practice.

FGC is classified as a human rights violation by many international organizations due to the non-consensual manner and life-threatening health implications. Typically, FGC is performed using unsanitary knives or razors within tribes and villages that do not have modern medical facilities. Anesthesia is not available in these rural communities, and the girls have to undergo the surgery without medication or numbing. Bleeding caused by the cutting is severe and can be fatal.

In extreme cases, the genitalia is stitched together after external removal, leaving a small opening for bodily fluids and intercourse. This causes lifelong pain for everything from urination to childbirth. FGC has a large impact on pregnancy. Approximately 25-30 percent of all victims are left infertile. If women are able to conceive, the surgery’s scars easily reopen during childbirth, making mothers and infants prone to infection.

Activists such as World Health Organization (WHO) are taking steps to end FGC. Many communities define FGC as empowerment, status and cleansing. Edcational programs and missionaries are making their way through these regions to help woman redefine empowerment and understand then damaging effects of FGC.


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