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General Information: Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

What is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)?

Female genital mutilation (FGM) — sometimes called female genital cutting or ‘female circumcision’ — is a ritual that involves cutting away one or several parts of the female genitalia, often as part of local customs in parts of Asia, Africa, the Middle East and the Arabian Peninsula.

FGM damages the woman’s reproductive organs and can cause serious complications and even death.

It is often performed without anesthesia by untrained traditional midwives or laypersons with rudimentary health training, using knives, razor blades or pieces of glass. In addition to trauma, complications can include hemorrhage, infection, gangrene and urinary tract infection.

The worst health hazard associated with FGM is death, which can result from hemorrhage, blood poisoning, acute urinary retention, AIDS or other complications. Long-term health effects may include painful menstruation and intercourse; infertility; prolonged and obstructed labor and birth complications; an inability to obtain accurate pap smears or pelvic examinations; and psychological trauma.

Read more about World Vision’s position on FGM.

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What forms does FGM take?

The most common forms of FGM are:
  • Clitoridectomy (sometimes known as sunna): removal of the prepuce (clitoral hood) with part or all of the clitoris.
  • Excision: The clitoris and part or all of the labia minora (inner vaginal lips) are removed. This represents 80 percent of all FGM.
  • Infibulation (also known as pharonoic circumcision): The clitoris, part or all of the labia minora are removed, and incisions are made on the labia majora (outer lips), creating a raw surface. These surfaces are sewn or pinned together on both sides of the vulva, leaving only a pinhole opening to let out urine and menstrual blood. This is the most severe form and represents 15 percent of FGM practices worldwide, but the vast majority of FGM in Sudan, Somalia and Djibouti.
  • Other forms of cutting, burning and piercing of girls’ genitalia.

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For how long has it been practiced?

Ancient texts dating back at least 2,000 years mention it, indicating that it was a well-known practice at the time. It was also practiced in Western countries until 1958.

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Why is it practiced?

As with many traditional practices, the reasons for it are complicated and vary based on location and culture.

FGM is a mark of cultural identity; people know who is — and is not — part of the community. In some communities, it is used to control women’s sexual behavior. In others, it is believed to increase women’s strength, endurance or modest behavior. Some communities practice FGM to remove ‘unclean’ or ‘masculine’ parts of women’s bodies, and some consider it hygienic or a spiritually purifying act.

In fact, FGM offers no health benefits and puts girls at extreme physical and emotional risk.

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Who is at risk?

The World Health Organization estimates that 100-140 million girls and women have undergone FGM worldwide. Every year, at least 2 million girls — an average of 6,000 a day — are at risk. FGM is most commonly performed between the ages of 4 and 8 years, though some cultures wait until the teens or just prior to marriage. In some places, the age of cutting appears to be decreasing.

It is most common in 28 African countries, although there are cases in the Middle East and Asia. Due to migration, FGM is seen even today in Europe, Australia, Canada and the United States, though exact statistics are difficult to come by.

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In which countries does FGM continue?

In the following countries, high percentages of girls have undergone FGM:

Burkina Faso
Chad
Djibouti
Egypt
Eritrea
Ethiopia
Gambia
Guinea
Guinea-Bissau
Mali
Sierra Leone
Somalia
northern Sudan
71.6%
60%
90-98%
78% of girls 11-19, and 97% of women who have been married
90%
72.7%
60-90%
98.6%
50%
93.7%
80-90%
90-98%
81%


In the following countries, FGM is still practiced, but a lower percentage of girls have been cut:

Benin
Cameroon
Central African Republic
Ivory Coast
Dem. Republic of Congo
Ghana
Indonesia
Kenya
Liberia
Mauritania
Niger
Nigeria
Senegal
Tanzania
Togo
Uganda
Yemen
30-50%
5-20%
43.4%
44.5%
5%
9-15%
no estimates available
37.6 percent
10-50%
25%
4.5%
25.1%
5-20%
17.9%
12%
<5%
23% of women who have been married


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Are there other problems that come with FGM?

Yes, there are. In cultures where FGM is practiced to acknowledge that a girl is ready to marry, the event may quickly lead to an early marriage. Early marriage not only threatens girls’ physical health, but also often leads to girls being withdrawn from school.

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What are the main approaches to eradication?

Most countries where FGM is practiced have laws prohibiting the practice, but these are rarely enforced (Burkina Faso is an honorable exception). Groups focused on health and women’s and human rights organizations are working to eradicate it. Because the practice is so tied to culture, the most successful programs are indigenous, planned and carried out by local men, women and girls.

Crucial partners in combating the practice are community elders, religious leaders, educators, health workers and practitioners of FGM. Factors in the success of anti-FGM projects are:

  • Education about adverse health effects of FGM
  • Support of local religious leaders
  • Agreement by parents that it is not a condition for marriage
  • Establishment of alternate rites of passage
  • Providing alternate employment for FGM practitioners
  • Strategies that involve men, women and youth in prevention of FGM

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