This Saturday is the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation, a day set aside to raise awareness about the practice of Female Genital Mutilation and the goal of eliminating it by 2030. Here are five facts you should know about the horrific practice that violates the human rights of girls and women.
[Warning: The descriptions of the practice are disturbing and necessarily graphic.]
1. Female genital mutilation (FGM) is the partial or complete removal of a girl’s external genitals for non-medical reasons (usually cultural, economic, or religious). There are no health benefits to FGM, and because the girl’s body is physically harmed by the removal of healthy tissue, the practice is recognized internationally as a human rights violation.
2. FGM is sometimes called Female Genital Cutting (FGC), Female Circumcision (FC), or excision. Many communities if which FGM occurs also use local names to refer to this practice including ‘Tahor’ or ‘Sunna’ (both Arabic Terms). These terms are sometimes used to avoid offending cultural sensibilities and avoid the perception that the practice is always forced on women. In some communities in which the FGM occurs, elderly women often do the most to perpetuate the custom.
3. In communities where FGM occurs, most girls are cut before they turn 14 years of age. Some girls, however, are cut in infancy, notes the Orchid Project. “In some areas of Ethiopia, for example, girls are often cut at just nine days old, and in half the countries in which FGC is practiced most girls undergo the procedure before the age of five,” add the Orchid Project. “In the Central African Republic, Egypt, Chad, and Somalia about 80% of girls are cut between five and 14, often in relation to coming-of-age rituals and the marking of their passage into adulthood.”
4. Female genital mutilation is classified into four major types:
Type 1 – Clitoridectomy: partial or total removal of the clitoris and, in very rare cases, only the prepuce.
Type 2 – Excision: partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora.
Type 3 – Infibulation: narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the inner, or outer, labia, with or without removal of the clitoris. The remaining skin is sewn or sealed together leaving a tiny hole for menstrual blood and urine.
Type 4 – Other: all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping, and cauterizing the genital area.
FGM is often performed with razor blades or knives and without sterilized equipment or anesthetic. In some urban areas, however, medically trained personnel may perform the FGM.
5. Between 100 and 140 million girls and women across the globe have either been subjected to FGM or at risk of being cut. The practice is most prevalent in Africa (where it occurs in at least 28 countries), parts of the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. FGC also happens in diaspora communities, including those in the United States.