Genital mutilation: Tradition still is what it was. And it hurts.

It is an ancient practice in some African countries, a cruel tradition that continues despite the world's efforts to end it. Female genital mutilation is one of the factors of gender inequality that urgently needs to be ended.

Aug 12, 2023 - 03:51
Genital mutilation: Tradition still is what it was. And it hurts.
Image by Unicef

The origins of female genital mutilation (FGM) are complex and not entirely clear, as the practice predates recorded history. FGM is believed to have originated in several different cultural contexts and likely emerged independently in various regions of the world. It is not tied to any specific religion, but rather to cultural and social norms.

Some theories suggest that FGM originated in ancient Egypt, as there is evidence of its practice in Egyptian art and texts dating back several millennia. Other theories propose that FGM may have emerged in other parts of Africa or the Middle East.

Over time, FGM became ingrained in the traditions and customs of various communities, where it is seen as a rite of passage or an essential part of preserving cultural identity. It is often associated with notions of purity, modesty, and controlling women's sexuality.

FGM is a deeply sensitive and controversial topic, and its origins and reasons for persistence are complex. The practice continues today due to a combination of social, cultural, and economic factors, often perpetuated by deep-rooted beliefs and gender norms within communities.

At the present days, there are no countries where female genital mutilation is explicitly allowed by law. In fact, FGM is considered a violation of human rights and is explicitly prohibited in many countries.

In recent years, international efforts have been made to raise awareness about the harmful effects of FGM and work towards its eradication by engaging with communities, implementing laws, and promoting education and empowerment for women and girls.

Numerous countries have enacted laws and regulations to criminalize FGM and impose penalties on those who perform or facilitate the practice. Additionally, international human rights conventions, such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), emphasize the need to eliminate FGM and protect the rights of women and girls.

However, despite these legal frameworks, enforcement and implementation can vary across different regions and communities. Some countries may still struggle with fully eradicating the practice due to deeply ingrained cultural norms and a lack of awareness or resources to combat FGM effectively.

Anyway, a lot of progress is being made through various advocacy efforts, educational programs, and community engagement to eliminate FGM and protect the rights and well-being of women and girls worldwide.


What are the consequences of FGM?

Female genital mutilation can have severe and long-lasting consequences for the physical, emotional, and psychological well-being of women who undergo the procedure. The consequences can vary depending on the type of FGM performed, the skill of the person performing it, and the individual's physical response. Here are some of the common consequences:

  1. Physical Health Issues: FGM can lead to immediate and long-term physical health problems, including severe pain, bleeding, and infection. The removal of healthy genital tissue can cause difficulties in urination and menstruation. Scarring and complications from the procedure can lead to chronic pain and discomfort.

  2. Sexual Dysfunction: FGM can significantly affect a woman's sexual health and function. The removal of sensitive genital tissue can lead to reduced sexual arousal and pleasure, making sexual intercourse painful and challenging.

  3. Obstetric Complications: FGM can lead to obstetric complications during childbirth. The scar tissue from the procedure can obstruct the birth canal, leading to prolonged and obstructed labor, increasing the risk of birth injuries to both the mother and the baby.

  4. Psychological Impact: FGM can cause significant psychological trauma, leading to anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Women who have experienced FGM may have difficulty coping with the physical and emotional consequences, leading to feelings of shame, self-esteem issues, and a sense of violation.

  5. Social and Cultural Consequences: In some communities, FGM is considered a rite of passage and a prerequisite for marriage. Women who have not undergone FGM may face social exclusion, stigma, and discrimination. This cultural pressure can lead to a perpetuation of the practice.

  6. Increased Risk of Infections: FGM can increase the risk of infections, especially when performed under unhygienic conditions. The use of unsterilized tools during the procedure can lead to infections like HIV and hepatitis.

  7. Human Rights Violation: FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of human rights, including the rights to health, physical integrity, and non-discrimination. It is an infringement of a person's autonomy and right to make decisions about their own body.

FGM has no medical benefits and is a harmful practice that violates the rights and dignity of women and girls. International efforts are ongoing to eliminate FGM through legislation, education, and community engagement, promoting awareness of its harmful effects and advocating for women's rights and empowerment.

Female genital mutilation remains a significant issue in several countries. In the present days, the countries with the highest prevalence of FGM include Somalia, Guinea, Djibouti, Mali, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Egypt, Eritrea, Mauritania and Gambia.

It's important to address the issue of FGM through a combination of legislative efforts, educational programs, and community engagement to promote awareness and change cultural practices that perpetuate this harmful tradition.

Numerous organizations, such as UNICEF and WHO, work towards eradicating FGM and protecting the rights and well-being of women and girls around the world. They provide resources, support, and advocacy to address this deeply ingrained practice and promote gender equality.

Yamanu Chisisi Member of EA Coordination Team