Information on Female Genital Cutting

Female Genital Cutting (FGC) – also called female circumcision or genital mutilation -- is a worldwide health epidemic for millions of young women. It has traveled with their cultural values to the U.S. and abroad and is an issue that continues to be ignored because of social taboos. This cultural practice manifests in a lot of different ways, and some are more harmful than others – get the facts first.

What is Female Genital Cutting?

FGC is the cultural practice of removing parts or all of the external female genitalia. The least invasive practice is when part or all of the clitoris is removed- the most invasive is when all of the external genitalia is removed and the vaginal opening is stitched almost completely closed. Exactly what to call FGC is still being debated. Some organizations use the word mutilation to not only describe the practice, but also point out the violation of human rights. Some people point out that 'cutting' is less judgmental, and also is a better translation of the procedure as defined in many local languages.

Where does it happen?

FGC is known to be practiced in most African countries, Indonesia, Malaysia, Yemen, Oman, United Arab Emirates, India, America, Australia, and Europe.

What’s the problem?

FGC can cause many physical and psychological issues. When it’s first performed, girls can hemorrhage, get an infection and at the least, experience extreme pain. Long term, scarred tissues can form, girls can become infertile, and child labor is extremely painful and potentially fatal. Girls can have difficulty urinating or menstruating and easily develop infections. FGC is also known to cause psychiatric issues, particularly surrounding sexual identity.

Types of FGC: The Procedures -

Type I – Circumcision is the excision (removal) of the prepuce (clitoral hood) with or without removal of a part of the clitoris

Type II – Excision or clitoridectomy is the excision of the clitoris together with part or all of the labia minora (the inner vaginal lips).

Type III – Infibulation is the excision of part or all of the external genitalia (clitoris, labia minora and labia majora) and stitching or narrowing of the vaginal opening, leaving a very small opening, about the size of a matchstick, to allow for the flow of urine and menstrual blood. The girl or woman’s legs are generally bound together from the hip to the ankle so she remains immobile for approximately 40 days to allow for the formation of scar tissue

Type IV – Other – Includes the pricking, piercing or incision of the clitoris and/or labia; also includes symbolic rituals.

Defibulation or deinfibulation – Cutting open the scar tissue that has formed around the vaginal opening to allow for sexual relations with her husband or for the birth of a child.

Refibulation or reinfibulation or recircumcision – The sewing up of a circumcised woman’s vaginal opening after childbirth or periodically during her life when she feels as though her opening has gotten too big or loose.

Rationale Behind FGC

It is easy to judge the practice because of its graphic and barbaric nature, but keep in mind this is a cultural practice that has been ingrained into generations of women. Many believe that without undergoing circumcision, they will be rejected by society or cursed by their ancestors. Reasons for the practice of FGC include:

  1. Sociological - Some see it as a right of passage into womanhood, and as a way to fit in with the rest of society.
  2. Hygienic - Certain cultures believe that female genitalia are dirty and unsightly.
  3. Sexual - FGM is a way to inhibit female sexuality.
  4. Health - There is a belief that it can enhance the rate of child survival and fertility.
  5. Religious - Some think that FGC is a religious requirement although it is most often sociological.
  6. Socio-economic - Where it is believed that FGC is a necessary requirement for marriage, the procedure is of economic value. It is also a source of income for circumcisers and makes a bride more valuable in cultures where dowry is paid.

FGM in the U.S.

In the U.S., young girls are still told that no one will marry them if they are uncircumcised, that they will “crave men” and be wild if uncircumcised, that they will be unable to menstruate or give birth (the opposite is true).

Some women return to their communities abroad to have the procedure carried out there. Azza, an Egyptian immigrant who moved to the U.S. fifteen years ago told The Atlantic Monthly that she plans to take her ten-year-old American daughter back to Egypt to be circumcised. “They say it helps us control our emotions.”

Many American immigrant families will chip in to bring someone from their homeland to circumcise their daughters. A taxi driver In Washington, D.C. told The Atlantic this is what he did, and vehemently defended the practice. “I stood over her to make sure she cut enough,” he said “I wasn’t going to let my daughters have those things!”

Signs of Hope

Today girls are more likely to have FGC done by health providers than did their mothers. It might reduce pain and the risk of infection, but other complications still develop.

Attitudes are changing in certain parts of the world. People are choosing less severe forms of FGC, but because FGC is a cultural value in many places, attitudes about it are extremely slow to change. Greater access to health education, modernization, fear of new anti-FGC laws, public ridicule, and girls’ refusal has helped to reduce the harm of FGC.