There are more than 200 million women who live with the consequences of FGM, and three to four million girls and young women are at risk to undergo the practice every year. These figures are based on the estimation of the World Health Organization (WHO) and show not only the importance of this public health issue but also the persisting difficulty to obtain precise information about the current situation.
However, behind all figures and technical terms stands a young person – a baby girl, a girl or a young woman – physically and mentally harmed for a lifetime. We want to introduce the subject with an extract of an eye witness report. Jaques Lantier observed the procedures of FGM in Somalia:
“(…) The operation itself is not accompanied by
any ceremony or ritual. The child, completely naked, is made to sit on a
low stool. Several women take hold of her and open her legs wide. After
separating her outer and inner lips, the operator, usually a woman
experienced in this procedure, sits down facing the child. With her
kitchen knife the operator first pierces and slices open the hood of the
clitoris. Then she begins to cut it out. While another woman wipes off
the blood with a rag, the operator digs with her sharp fingernail a hole
the length of the clitoris to detach and pull out the organ. The little
girl, held down by the women helpers, screams in extreme pain; but no
one pays the slightest attention.
The operator finishes this job by entirely pulling
out the clitoris, cutting it to the bone with her knife. Her helpers
again wipe off the spurting blood with a rag. The operator then removes
the remaining flesh, digging with her finger to remove any remnant of
the clitoris among the flowing blood. The neighbor [sic] women are then
invited to plunge their fingers into the bloody hole to verify that
every piece of the clitoris is removed.
This operation is not always well-managed, as the little girl struggles. It often happens that by clumsy use of the knife or a poorly-executed cut the urethra is pierced or the rectum is cut open. If the little girl faints, the women blow pili-pili (spice powder) into her nostrils. But this is not the end. The most important part of the operation begins only now. After a short moment, the woman takes the knife again and cuts off the inner lips (labia minora) of the victim. The helpers again wipe the blood with their rags. Then the operator, with a swift motion of her knife, begins to scrape the skin from the inside of the large lips. The operator conscientiously scrapes the flesh of the screaming child without the slightest concern for the extreme pain she inflicts. When the wound is large enough, she adds some lengthwise cuts and several more incisions. The neighbor [sic] women carefully watch her 'work' and encourage her.
The child now howls even more. Sometimes in a spasm, children bite off their tongues. The women carefully watch to prevent such an accident. When her tongue flops out, they throw spice powder on it, which provokes an instant pulling back. 0
With the abrasion of the skin completed according to the rules, the operator closes the bleeding large lipsfixes them one against the other with long acacia thorns. At this stage of the operation the child is so exhausted that she stops crying but often has convulsions. The women then force down her throat a concoction of plants.
The operator's chief concern is to leave an opening no larger than a kernel of corn or just big enough to allow urine, and later the menstrual flow, to pass. The family honor [sic] depends on making the opening as small as possible because with the Somalis, the smaller the artificial passage is, the greater the value of the girl and the higher the bride-price.
When the operation is finished, the woman pours water over the genital area of the girl and wipes her with a rag. Then the child, who was held down all this time, is made to stand up. The women then immobilize her thighs by tying them together with ropes of goat skin. This bandage is applied from the knees to the waist of the girl and is left in place for about two weeks. The girl must remain lying on a mat for the entire time while all the excrement evidently remains with her in the bandage.
After that time, the girl is released and the bandage is cleaned. Her vagina is now closed - except for a tiny opening created by insertion of a straw or reed and remains closed until her marriage. (…)”
(source: The Hosken Report: Genital and Sexual Mutilation of Females, Fourth Revised Edition (Women's International Network News: Lexington, MA, 1993)
The way of practicing FGM differs depending on the cultural and/or traditional background and was classified by the World Health Organization, see “Classification” p. 7. Such a practice violates the integrity of the human body and has a tremendous tall on women’s health. The full functioning of the female sexual organ is at the highest risk. Physical, mental and sexual complications due to the invasive practice and its primitive performance will hamper the victim from a healthy life lived in dignity.
Today FGM is internationally recognized as a violation of Human Rights. Consequently, many countries created legislation and operational structures to ban and abandon this practice. Unfortunately, in order to reduce the damages, FGM is often conducted by medical doctors. In Egypt, almost half of all procedures are done in a medical environment. The immediate negative and short term consequences may be avoided, but not the long term and psychological consequences. WHO, along with other International Organizations and non-govern-mental organizations fight the medicalization of FGM. The eradication of this harmful traditional practice must be total, just as the foot binding in China which was totally eradicated. Optimistic activists spread the word of “eradication in one generation” – a vision which makes worth every effort to become a reality.
Definition of FGM
How does it happen?
Who is concerned?
The Role of Men