What is FGM?

Mhari Aurora
·3 min read
Photo credit: Orchid Project
Photo credit: Orchid Project

Between April and June this year more than 600 women were the victims of FGM, the barbaric, gender-based act of violence that leaves many women scarred - mentally and physically - for life.

FGM is a crime. It is often carried out within families or communities who mistakenly believe the procedure will prepare a girl for marriage or preserve her virginity.

There are four main types of FGM:

  • Clitoridectomy - removing part or all of the clitoris

  • Excision - removing all or part of the clitoris as well as the inner labia (the lips surrounding the vagina) and sometimes the labia majora (the larger outer lips)

  • Infibulation - narrowing the vaginal opening by creating a seal via cutting and repositioning the labia

  • Other harmful procedures like pricking, burning, scraping or cutting the female genital area

Julia Lalla-Maharajh OBE, founder of Orchid Project – a charity campaigning to end FGM worldwide – explains how the communities the organisation works with prefer the use of the word “cutting” over “mutilation”.

She says communities do not perform this practice with the sole purpose to mutilate or torture girls, they do it because they believe it will to allow them to be accepted into society.

Watch: What is female genital mutilation?

Using the term female genital cutting (FGC) over FGM allows the charity to have a dialogue with these communities in order to end the practice.

Miranda Dobson, from the Orchid Project, believes it is important to open up the conversation and share information about human rights when talking to communities.

“We are seeing movement toward change but the concerning thing is that with population growth in the regions and countries where FGC is most densely populated, that is outpacing progress.

“Even though girls are less likely to be cut, we know that because there are more people being born, the prevalence of FGC is potentially increasing, which is the troubling thing.

“The more we are aware and the more we share information, the more we are breaking the silence and the more we are breaking the taboo.

“The mental health elements of this practice can be lifelong, ongoing and devastating.

“It’s gender-based violence and it’s a human rights violation. Gender equality is not possible without ending FGC.”

Photo credit: Orchid Project
Photo credit: Orchid Project

The consequences of FGC

There are no health benefits to FGC and the practice can have serious physical and mental repercussions for the rest of women’s lives.

Women can endure a range of physical issues, including problems during pregnancy and childbirth; pain when having sex; and infections leading to infertility and death.

Victims of the crime may also endure depression, flashbacks, self-harm and a lack of pleasure during sex.

There is no way to undo the damage to a woman’s mental health caused by FGC, however deinfibulation – surgery to open up the vagina – can be effective in some cases when a woman is unable to have sex, has difficulty urinating or in pregnant women who are at risk of problems during labour or delivery as a result of FGC.

Many education and youth professionals have training to spot the warning signs FGC may be about to take place, or has already been carried out.

According to the NSPCC, warning signs include:

  • A ceremony where the girl “becomes a woman” or is “prepared for marriage”

  • If a family arranges a long holiday abroad or visits family overseas

  • A girl has an unexpected or long absence from school

  • Or if the girl runs away or tries to run away from home.

Signs FGC has taken place include:

  • a girl having difficulty walking, standing or sitting

  • Spending long periods of time in the bathroom or toilet

  • Appearing anxious or depressed

  • A reluctance to go to the doctors.

If a girl reports or reveals abuse, contact the NSPCC on 0800 028 3550 or help@nspcc.org.uk, or contact FORWARD (Foundation for Women's Health Research and Development) at support@forwarduk.org.uk.

If a girl appears to have been recently cut or you believe she is at imminent risk call the police on 999.