Female Genital Mutilation occurs all over the world, but most frequently in African countries, where it occurs to a much higher percentage of the female population, for example in Djibouti 98% of females have experienced some form of genital mutilation (FGM). The World Health Organization estimates that 125 million girls and women have experienced FGM in the 29 African and Middle Eastern countries where it is most frequently performed.
This leaves many people to believe that western countries are immune to female genital mutilation or the harm it causes, but due to migration and the emergence of African and Middle Eastern communities in western countries who practice this cruel tradition, this is far from the truth.
What is FGM and how is it performed
Female Genital Mutilation, or Female circumcision as it is otherwise known, differs vastly to male circumcision where the effects don’t diminish the quality of life for the males, and is often medically required. It is usually carried out on young girls between the ages of infancy and around 14 or 15 years old, making it a violation of the rights of children, and a human rights violation. There are 4 main types of FGM, but all involve permanent, unnecessary, and painful, partial or total removal of the external genitalia for non-medical reasons. These are the 4 main types:
- Clitoridectomy – This involves removing part of or the entire clitoris.
- Excision – removing part or all of the clitoris and the inner labia
- Infibulation – narrowing of the vaginal opening by creating a seal, formed by cutting and repositioning the labia.
- The forth type encompasses any other harm to the vagina such as burning, piercing, cutting, scraping of prickling.
Other women, older members of the community who have witnessed or performed the procedure before, generally carry out the practice using a knife or razor, however in some African countries there has been a leaning towards medical practitioners carrying out the procedure, and now around 18% of all FGM procedures are carried out by a doctor. There is a whole host of negative effects that come along with FGM; often the labia is closed over the urethra leading to infection, the procedure itself can cause severe bleeding due to the artery behind the clitoris, and closing over the vaginal opening causes childbirth to be extremely painful and complicated, and sometimes results in death. FGM in its purist form is an extreme form of female oppression and control.
Why Does FGM Happen
There are several reasons why FGM is practiced, and most revolve around fear or misguided myths. One reason is tradition, if it has been long practiced in a community, it makes young girls more acceptable and integrated into the community, and more likely to find a husband. It’s also used as a way to control female sexually, the community often believes it will ensure virginity until marriage and then fidelity during marriage. It’s also associated with ideals of femininity, purity and beauty.
FGM in The UK
FGM is illegal in the UK, but has nonetheless been practiced in some communities, and it’s estimated that around 6,500 girls are at risk of FGM every year in the UK, and there are 66,000 women and girls living with FGM in the UK. The UK has experienced increasing pressure to convict perpetrators of FGM in the UK, as the handling of it has been inferior to other western countries where there have been many more convictions. The first prosecution in the UK was earlier this year, where Dr Dhanuson Dharmasena, 31, of Ilford, east London was found to be intentionally encouraging female genital mutilation. However there is still a long way to go, four other cases were dropped recently, involving parents arranging to take their daughters abroad to have the procedure performed, which is also illegal. Part of the problem in the UK is that information on FGM isn’t known outside the communities in which it’s practiced, this is set to change though, as of April 2014, hospitals now have to record if a female patient has had FGM performed on her, this will hopefully lead to more convictions as doctors will know the time frame in which it occurred.
FGM in Europe
Sweden in March 2014 had a case where they discovered all 28 girls in one class had had FGM performed on them, and after an investigation into the local community, the number quickly rose to 60 young girls. It was found that all of the girls in the class had clitoridectomy and infibulation performed on them. In France it is illegal and punishable by up to 20 years in prison, the law also requires to report any cases, or planned cases of FGM. The number of woman in France living with FGM is estimated at 55,000. According to a resolution passed by the European Parliament in March 2009 on Combating FGM in Europe, its estimated that around 500,000 women and girls living in Europe have been subjected to female genital mutilation.
FGM in the US and Canada
While the information for FGM in the US is rather out-dated, the figures are still alarming, and possibly even higher today. A report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimated that over 168,000 girls and women living in the U.S. have either been subjected to FGM or are at risk of it. The prevalence and occurrence of FGM in the US is shrouded in silence when compared to information on the issue in the Eu, which could mean there are many young girls at risk who are unlikely to receive the protection or help they deserve. In Canada the facts are also lesser know, but for example, in 2011, 29,000 women from African and Middle Eastern countries became permanent citizens, it is likely to assume that for those women from nations such as Kenya where the prevalence is extremely high, FGM has already been performed on them.
So What’s The Next Step?
The next step in solving the issue of FGM in the west and hopefully to form a plan to eradicate it around the world, is to accept that it is happening and make it known to practicing communities that is unacceptable through education of the consequences. For many communities the practice is ingrained and expected, the women performing it have experienced it themselves and see it as a necessary act that is unpleasant but essential for their daughter in the community.
Many fathers and husbands don’t fully understand what the procedure entails or just how harmful and psychologically damaging it is for the young girls involved. It’s generally treated as a subject that doesn’t need to be talked about but happens as a necessary element of their culture, this needs to change, governments and health groups need to engage members of the community in an open discussion about what actually happens and how harmful the practice is. More prosecutions need to happen of parents who perform, plan to perform or take their daughters abroad to have the procedure performed.
The west needs to take a stance that this practice is immoral and unusually cruel and must not be allowed to happen, because while this the view the west holds, our handling of the issue also needs to reflect this in a much more aggressive way. We need to stop treating members of different cultural communities within western countries as being exempt to criticism on this issue out of respect for their traditions, a tradition this harmful doesn’t warrant cultural respect or exemption when thousands of girls are at risk.
We need young girls growing up in these communities within western countries to feel integrated and a part of a modern society that wants to protect them, as then they will be more likely to seek help if they suspect or know this is about to happen to them.
If we can create a strong stance against this issue in the west, then we will have a generation of young people across many cultural communities who vehemently oppose this practice and more pressure will to applied to the countries where it is much more widely practiced, leading to a safer world for young girls worldwide.
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