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Female Genital Mutilation: Facts and Information

  • Publish Date : 2015/05/18 - (Rev. 2017/06/25)
  • Author : Thomas C. Weiss
  • Contact : Disabled World


Information regarding female genital mutilation, a painful invasive surgical procedure often performed without anesthetics on girls before they reach puberty.

Main Document

Female Genital Mutilation is a painful and invasive surgical procedure that is often performed without the use of anesthetics on girls before they reach puberty. A number of sources estimate that from approximately 60 to 140 million women on earth have had their genitals cut or mutilated. Around 4 girls each minute continue to be mutilated. Their prepuce is often times removed and their clitoris might be partially or completely removed. Female genital mutilation is classified into 4 major types.

Female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as female genital cutting and female circumcision, is defined as the ritual removal of some or all of the external female genitalia. Procedures differ according to the ethnic group. They include removal of the clitoral hood and clitoral glans (the visible part of the clitoris), removal of the inner labia and, in the most severe form (known as infibulation), removal of the inner and outer labia and closure of the vulva. The WHO, UNICEF and UNFPA issued a joint statement in April 1997 defining FGM as "all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs whether for cultural or other non-therapeutic reasons."

Clitoridectomy: Clitoridectomy involves the partial or complete removal of the clitoris and in rare instances, only the prepuce.

Excision: Excision involves the partial or total removal of the clitoris as well as the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora.

Other: This type of female genital mutilation includes all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical reasons such as piercing, pricking, scraping, cauterizing or incising the genital area.

Infibulation: Infibulation involves narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal, which is formed by cutting and repositioning the inner or outer labia - with or without removal of the clitoris.

In some traditions, the operation is much more invasive. The labia minora are also surgically removed and the labia majora are sewn together, covering the urethra and vagina. A small opening is retained for the passage of urine and menstrual fluid. The result is that sexual feelings are either reduced or eliminated entirely. Sexual intercourse is often times extremely painful for the woman and childbirth often requires a Caesarian section.

Female genital mutilation has been a social custom in Northern Africa for millennia. A number of people associate female genital mutilation with the religion of Islam. In actuality, it is a social custom that is practiced by Christians, Muslims and Animists in countries where female genital mutilation is common. There are many Muslim countries in which the mutilation is basically an unknown practice, such as:

  • Iraq
  • Iran
  • Kuwait
  • Algeria
  • Pakistan
  • Saudi Arabia

Female genital mutilation is very widespread in Indonesia, the world's largest predominately Muslim country. The practice was banned by the Indonesian Government in the year 2006; however, the procedure is not regulated and is still popular - particularly in rural areas. The techniques used seem to be minimally invasive in that country.

During 2007, female genital mutilation was banned in Eritrea. The Egyptian Health Ministry desired a law banning female genital mutilation in that country. The nations where the practice remained legal include Somalia, which lacks a central government; Sudan, as well as Indonesia. In 2012, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a Resolution to ban female genital mutilation around the world. According to No Peace without Justice, Resolution A/RES/67/146 states the resolution:

"... was cosponsored by two thirds of the General Assembly, including the entire African Group, and was adopted by consensus by all UN members. The resolution, which was hailed by the Ban FGM Campaign, reflects universal agreement that female genital mutilation constitutes a violation of human rights, which all countries of the world should address through 'all necessary measures, including enacting and enforcing legislation to prohibit FGM and to protect women and girls from this form of violence, and to end impunity'."

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is on occasion performed in Europe and North America on girls of families who have immigrated from countries where the practice is common and have temporarily returned to their country of origin.

A practice similar to female genital mutilation is, 'Intersex Genital Mutilation (IGM).' IGM is at times performed on inter-sexual infants throughout the world. The infants are born with ambiguous genitalia that do not clearly match the typical female or male pattern. It happens once in every 1,500-2,000 births. Since it is far easier for surgeons to remove than to create body parts, inter-sexual infants were often surgically treated to make them appear female. The infant was then raised as a girl, which has led to disastrous outcomes for the child after they reach puberty - to include suicide.

Key Facts About Female Genital Mutilation

  • Female genital mutilation has no health benefits for girls and women.
  • Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a violation of the human rights of girls and women.
  • FGM is mostly performed on young girls at some point between infancy and the age of fifteen.
  • FGM includes procedures that intentionally alter or injure the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
  • More than 125 million girls and women alive today have been cut in the 29 countries in the Middle East and Africa where the practice is concentrated.
  • FGM procedures can cause severe issues with urinating, bleeding and later - infections, cysts, infertility and complications in childbirth, to include increased risk of newborn deaths.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) has no health benefits, it harms girls and women in several ways. FGM involves removing and damaging healthy and average female genital tissue and interferes with the natural functions of girls' and women's' bodies. Immediate complications can include:

  • Shock
  • Sepsis
  • Tetanus
  • Severe pain
  • Hemorrhage
  • Urine retention
  • Injury to nearby genital tissue
  • Open sores in the genital region

Female genital mutilation also has long-term consequences such as infertility, cysts, recurrent urinary and bladder infections and an increased risk of childbirth complications and newborn deaths. A girl or woman who has been violated may need later surgeries. For example; the FGM procedure that narrows or seals a vaginal opening needs to be cut open at a later time to allow for sexual intercourse and childbirth. At times, it is stitched again several times, including after childbirth. Because of this, a violated girl or woman goes through repeated opening and closing procedures, which further increases immediate and long-term risks.

Quick Facts:

  • The procedures are generally performed by a traditional circumciser in the girls' homes, with or without anaesthesia.
  • The practice is rooted in gender inequality, attempts to control women's sexuality, and ideas about purity, modesty and aesthetics.
  • When traditional circumcisers are involved, non-sterile cutting devices are likely to be used, including knives, razors, scissors, glass, sharpened rocks and fingernails.


  • Over 130 million women and girls have experienced FGM in the 29 countries in which it is concentrated. The United Nations Population Fund estimates that 20% of affected women have been infibulated, a practice found largely in northeast Africa, particularly Djibouti, Eritrea, Somalia and northern Sudan.
  • UNICEF reported in November 2014 that prevalence rates for sub-Saharan Africa were 39% for women and 17% for girls aged 0 - 14; for Eastern and Southern Africa 44 and 14%, and for West and Central Africa 31 and 17%. As of 2013, Egypt, Ethiopia and Nigeria had the highest number of women and girls living with FGM: 27.2 million, 23.8 million and 19.9 million respectively.

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