Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

Female genital mutilation (FGM), sometimes called female genital cutting (FGC) or female circumcision, is the cutting or removal of all or a portion of the genitals for cultural (not medical) reasons. There are different ways it is practiced according to the place or culture in which it is being done. The World Health Organization describes them in the following types:

Type I (Clitoridectomy): removal of part or all of the clitoris.

Type II (Excision): This is the most common form. Removal of the clitoris and part or all of the labia minora (the inner vaginal lips).

Type III (Infibulation): Removal of the external genitalia and stitching of the vaginal opening. A very small opening is left, about the diameter of a pencil. Sometimes the legs are bound together from the hip to the ankle so that they cannot move for 40 days. Some communities don’t stitch the opening. About 15 percent of those who undergo FGM have this form. In the areas where it is practiced, however, it sometimes affects 90 to 100 percent of those with vaginas.

Type IV: This category includes pricking, piercing or incision of the clitoris and/or labia, stretching the clitoris and/or labia, cauterization by burning of the clitoris and surrounding tissues, scraping (angurya cuts) of the vaginal orifice or cutting (gishiri cuts) of the vagina, introduction of corrosive substances into the vagina to cause bleeding, or introduction of herbs into the vagina to tighten or narrow the vagina, or any other procedure that falls under the definition of genital mutilation.

The procedure is usually done outside of a hospital, with no anesthetic. The person performing the procedure uses razors, scissors or knives, sometimes other sharp instruments. There are incidences of FGM being performed in hospitals as well.

The number of those who have been subjected to this practice range from 115 million to 130 million worldwide. Furthermore, there are over 4 million young people at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation every year. The majority are cut before they turn 15 years old.

Where is FGM being done?

UNICEF estimates that the total number of people living today who have been subjected to FGM in Africa ranges is at least 200 million. This means that approximately 2 million are mutilated every year. Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Somalia, and Sudan account for 75 percent of all cases. In Somalia, 98% of young women are mutilated. Due to emigration, FGM is now being practiced in areas of Asia, Europe, and the United States.

Why should FGM be stopped?

FGM leads to lifelong pain and problems with sexual health and childbirth. Depending on the environment and type of the procedure, FGM can lead to serious health issues such as infection, illness and death. As a result, bleeding is severe, and infection can affect all or part of the genitals or reproductive organs. Due to infection, some will find movement, sitting, urination and childbirth to be excruciatingly painful. Some acquire dysmenorrhoea, which means they are no longer able to have periods. Fistula is another result of FGM and is described as the continuous leakage of feces and urine, which can lead to being cast out of a community.

Some who have FGM performed feel that they will be ostracized if they do not have the procedure done. Some who have not undergone FGM feel pressured that they may not be able to find a partner. Patriarchal conventions in communities that practice FGM add to the situation by asserting that a woman who is not cut is not fit to marry. Some men believe that FGM is the only way to prove a woman’s virginity. These men think that if a woman is still sown together, then she is a virgin. In addition, the act of opening her wounds for the act of sexual intercourse can be just as painful as the original procedure. The pressure to be accepted by their communities is the main reason people undergo FGM. While FGM is usually looked at as a cultural tradition, it is not required in any religion. It crosses ethnic, religious and cultural lines.

What is being done to stop it?

The United Nations has declared that FGM is a violation of human rights. The United States is calling for the complete elimination of FGM through policies that include education, the empowerment of gender minorities, and enforcement of laws against FGM. The performance of FGM on a person under the age of 18 was made a crime in the United States under section 116 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, and as of April 2020, 38 states have laws outlawing FGM.

Most countries where FGM is commonly performed do not have laws that prohibit FGM. If they do have such laws, the enforcement is often weak. There are a number of countries where immigrants are performing FGM, such as Sweden, the United Kingdom, Norway, Australia and New Zealand. Those countries have passed laws that outlaw the practice of FGM.

Due to the aspect of FGM as a cultural tradition, some organizations such as Amnesty International want to replace physical FGM with symbolic ceremonies. Instead of ignoring the strong cultural ties to the procedure and eliminating the part of FGM that is used as a rite of passage, Amnesty and other groups are advocating the redefining of the “rites in a way that promotes positive traditional values while removing the danger of physical and psychological harm. ”


Ms. Magazine recently published an article about FGM occurring in the United States. Visit http://www.msmagazine.com/june03/nolen.asp for more information.

For a list of international organizations that are working to stop FGM visit Amnesty International at: http://www.amnesty.org/ailib/intcam/femgen/fgm10.htm


1. The World Health Organization: http://www.who.int/docstore/frh-whd/FGM/infopack/English/fgm_infopack.htm

2. The United Nations: http://www.un.org/geninfo/faq/factsheets/FS3.HTM

3. The United States Department of State: http://www.state.gov/g/wi/rls/rep/9304.htm

Source: Amnesty International: http://www.amnesty.org/ailib/intcam/femgen/fgm8.htm

4. BBC NEWS: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/3479379.stm

5. UNICEF, https://www.unicef.org/protection/female-genital-mutilation