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Illuminating the Impact of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

Mother and infant
Mother carries infant child
Introduction

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is defined as the partial or total removal of a woman’s external genitalia.[1] FGM is a violation of girl’s and women's human rights, and it is a form of gender-based violence. FGM does not provide any health benefits and is done for non-medical purposes. This practice violates children’s rights, as many girls who undergo FGM are minors, and even infants. The World Health Organization states that this “practice 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”.[2] 


Why Does FGM Still Happen? 

There are more than 200 million females that have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.[3] However, studies have shown that FGM is most predominant in Eastern African countries such as Tanzania, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Eritrea, Somalia, and Sudan.[4] In many of these regions, FGM has been practiced for centuries and passed down by ancestors, meaning that FGM is practiced as a tradition. In some ethnic groups, it is believed that FGM prepares a girl for adulthood and marriage so that she stays “pure” before marriage and does not commit infidelity.[5] For instance, some cultures believe that circumcising a woman will reduce her sexual urges so that she remains loyal to her husband while he travels for long periods of time.[6] Other cultures believe that a woman that isn’t circumcised is cursed, and she will cause her husband and children to die.[7] Another reason that some girls or women undergo FGM is because of the societal pressure they feel from their community. In some regions, it is a dishonor to not be circumcised and these women or girls are despised or rejected from their community for not undergoing the procedure. To restore their honor and to feel accepted in their culture, many girls and women have chosen to participate in FGM. Parents of these young girls and women may also force or demand that their daughters be circumcised. 


The Harm of FGM 

Female genital mutilation causes both short-term and long-term health risks to women. Some immediate health complications include infection, urinary problems, severe pain, excessive bleeding, fever, and even death. The long-term effects of FGM are childbirth complications, menstrual problems, and sexual problems. Besides physical complications, FGM causes anxiety, depression, low-self-esteem issues and post-traumatic stress in many females. Childbirth complications due to FGM have also led to an increase in newborn death rates.  


Woman tests lab results
DNA samples being tested for Covid-19
How Covid-19 influenced FGM 

During the pandemic of Covid-19, it became more difficult for communities and their institutions to focus on the issue of female genital mutilation. With the focus on Covid-19, FGM reports from health workers and police officers were not given as much importance. The pandemic made it easier for female circumcisions to occur in private or in secret. In addition, it became challenging for justice and legal systems to respond to FGM cases, due to the lockdown of these institutions. Court hearings were also limited, and it became difficult for people to attend these hearings due to the lack of public transportation.[8] Psychological and sexual counseling and rescue services to help victims of FGM decreased during the pandemic too.  

 

Conclusion 

Female genital mutilation is a global concern that has not been completely solved and affects millions of young girls and infants. There is a need to continue discussing FGM and educating young girls and women in regions where it’s practiced, about sexual and reproductive health. Furthermore, community leaders and parents need to be educated on these topics to break antiquated cultural traditions and beliefs. It's also crucial to educate health workers on FGM and how to approach victims appropriately. Proper education along with financial stability can allow ethnic communities to view women and men equally and realize the harm that FGM is causing.  


 

Endnotes

[1] Sabi Boun S, Otu A and Yaya S, ‘Fighting Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): Towards the Endgame and Beyond’ (2023) 20 Reproductive Health


[2] World Health Organization, ‘Female Genital Mutilation’ (World Health Organisation 31 January 2023) <https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/female-genital-mutilation>


[3] ibid.


[4] Mwanja CH, Herman PZ and Millanzi WC, ‘Prevalence, Knowledge, Attitude, Motivators and Intentional Practice of Female Genital Mutilation among Women of Reproductive Age: A Community-Based Analytical Cross-Sectional Study in Tanzania’ (2023) 23 BMC Women’s Health


[5] Esho T and others, ‘The Perceived Effects of COVID-19 Pandemic on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting and Child or Forced Marriages in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Senegal’ (2022) 22 BMC Public Health


[6] Mkuwa S and others, ‘The Role of Communities and Leadership in Ending Female Genital Mutilation in Tanzania: An Exploratory Cross-Sectional Qualitative Study in Tanga’ (2023) 23 BMC Public Health


[7] ibid.


[8] Esho (n 5).

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