From the Field

6 facts about female genital mutilation (FGM)

Here are 6 facts you should know about female genital mutilation, the dangerous practice affecting more than 200 million women and girls in 30 countries.

More than 200 million women and girls around the world are living with the results of the dangerous practice of female genital mutilation (FGM/C), also known as cutting, according to a report by UNICEF, the U.N. children’s agency.

In the next decade, 30 million more are at risk of being mutilated. The United Nations created the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, observed every year on February 6, to stop the harmful practice to girls and women.

The following are some female genital mutilation facts and frequently asked questions.

What is female genital mutilation (FGM)?

Female genital mutilation is defined as the removal of part or all of the female genitalia for nonmedical reasons. It is also called female circumcision and cutting. The procedure is most often done to girls between birth and age 15.

What are the consequences of FGM?

Often carried out under primitive and unsanitary conditions without anesthetic, FGM can cause severe pain, bleeding, and swelling that may prevent passing urine or feces. In the long term, it leads to chronic pelvic infections, urinary tract infections, and birth complications for mothers and children. The horror of the event — including being physically restrained against their will — affects many women for years. There are no health benefits from the procedure, which is not medically necessary or condoned by the World Health Organization, most governments, and reputable medical associations.

Where is FGM practiced?

FGM is practiced in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, but Egypt, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Sudan account for about 42 percent of all cases. Migrants have carried the traditional practice with them to other countries in Europe and the Americas.

Why is FGM still practiced?

Most women and men familiar with FGM say they would like to see it end, but there is social pressure to continue cutting. Mothers, fathers, extended family, and community leaders may force or coerce girls and young women to be cut so that they will be accepted as “clean” and ready for marriage.

There is a trend to having the procedure done in a clinic. Isn’t that better than cutting in unsanitary conditions?

It is better not to be done at all. The long-term effects of FGM are just as harmful either way. The “medicalization” of FGM serves to legitimize a harmful practice that is also a violation of human rights.

How can we end FGM?

Most of the 30 countries where FGM is practiced have legislated against it. However, until social norms change, the practice continues in secret. World Vision and other organizations are educating and empowering girls and their communities to end FGM. There’s strong evidence that it can be eliminated in one generation.

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