Female Genital Mutilation (or FGM) is a serious concern, even in the 21st century. FGM refers to the process of intentionally altering or injuring the female genital organs for non-medical reasons, and it has no health benefits to women. Actually, quite the opposite. Problems arising from FGM include severe bleeding, problems urinating, cysts, infections, infertility, complications in childbirth, and an increased risk of newborn deaths.
And beyond the physical health dimension, FGM is recognised internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women, and reflects a deep-rooted sense of inequality between the sexes.
Basically, it shouldn’t happen. But, it does.
It is estimated that more than 125 million women and girls alive today have been subjected to FGM, usually by traditional circumsisers in their communities. Often, the people who carry out FGM also perform other roles, such as attending childbirths.
Where does it happen? Unlike some cultural practices, female genital mutilation isn’t isolated to one community, culture, or country. There are 27 African countries in which it is regularly practiced, and it also occurs in parts of the Middle East and Indonesia. Even when a country makes the practice illegal, it has,in certain instances, continued in secret within communities.
What’s the answer?
Education is definitely part of it, strengthening women’s rights is in there too, and law enforcement can play a role. Fortunately, the situation is slowly improving, with UN data reporting that the practice is less prevalent among adolescent girls than among their middle-aged counterparts in most of the countries in which FGM occurs.
It’s all good and well to for me to define the practice, or offer you some statistics. Some articles even include quotes from girls who have been cut. But today, I saw some really powerful, graphic photos, taken by Reuters photographer Siegfried Modola, who was given a rare level of access to a normally secret FGM ceremony in Baringo County, Kenya. For context, United Nations data suggests that more than a quarter of girls and women in Kenya have been cut.
Take a deep breath before you scroll down, because you’ll remember this. (Seriously, the following images are disturbing and not to be scrolled through lightly)
But don’t just imagine female genital mutilation as something that takes place out in dusty villages in front of thatched-roof huts. Every year, around 20,000 young women in the UK and France are at risk of FGM, generally amongst migrant communities who have come to Europe from countries where the practice is common.
While FGM is of course illegal in the UK and France, local medical experts report that the French Government has been much more pro-active in stamping out the practice. My personal opinion is that “cultural tolerance” isn’t a concept that has any place in a discussion about FGM, because it’s not culture, it’s abuse.
Together, Global Citzens can end this practice and protect the right of women and girls.