By Umar Bin Abdul Aziz
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), mainly carried out on girls aged 4 to 14, is the ritual partial or total removal of external female genitalia. Women who undergo this practice, which is recognized as a human rights violation by the international community, risk severe, sometimes irreversible, physical damage as well as being victims of serious psychological trauma.
About 120 to 140 million women have been subject to FGM over the years and currently at least 3 million girls are at risk each year, in accord to data presented by the World Health Organization (WHO). An estimated 3 million girls are at risk of undergoing genital mutilation each year.
Typically carried out by a traditional circumciser using a blade, FGM is conducted from days after birth to puberty and beyond. In half of the countries for which national figures are available, most girls are cut before the age of five. Procedures differ according to the country or ethnic group. They include removal of the clitoral hood and clitoral glans, removal of the inner labia, and removal of the inner and outer labia and closure of the vulva. In this last procedure, known as infibulation, a small hole is left for the passage of urine and menstrual fluid; the vagina is opened for intercourse and opened further for childbirth.
The procedures are generally performed by a traditional circumciser (cutter or exciseuse) in the girls’ homes, with or without anesthesia. The cutter is usually an older woman, but in communities where the male barber has assumed the role of health worker he will also perform FGM. When traditional cutters are involved, non-sterile devices are likely to be used, including knives, razors, scissors, glass, sharpened rocks and fingernails. According to a nurse in Uganda, quoted in 2007 in The Lancet, a cutter would use one knife on up to 30 girls at a time. In several countries, health professionals are involved, in Egypt 77 percent of FGM procedures, and in Indonesia over 50 percent, were performed by medical professionals as of 2008 and 2016.
Complications of FGM:
FGM harms women’s physical and emotional health throughout their lives. It has no known health benefits. Complications are as under:
Necrotizing fasciitis (flesh-eating disease)
Use of shared instruments is thought to aid the transmission of hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV
Formation of scars and keloids that lead to strictures and obstruction
Epidermoid cysts that may become infected Neuroma formation (growth of nerve tissue)
Vesico-vaginal or recto-vaginal fistulae
Painful periods because of the obstruction to the menstrual flow
Blood can stagnate in the vagina and uterus
Hematocolpos and Hematometra
The swelling of the abdomen and lack of menstruation can resemble pregnancy.
Third-degree laceration (tears)
Anal-sphincter damage and emergency caesarean section are more common in infibulated women
Post-traumatic stress disorder
International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM
In order to fight this phenomenon, which has affected at least 200 million women alive today in 30 countries, the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation is celebrated on the 6th of February. The aim of the day, established by the United Nations on the 20th of December 2012 is to encourage governments, civil society and all involved parties to implement concrete actions and increase awareness campaigns against FGM.
According UNICEF report Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting, a Global Concern, 50 per cent of girls and women who have undergone some form of genital mutilation live in 3 countries: Egypt, Ethiopia and Indonesia. Thankfully, the phenomenon seems to have registered a downward trend between 2005 and 2010 it decreased by 5 per cent. But its eradication is still far from being achieved. It is estimated, in fact, that it will be halved by 2074. Moreover, the steady growth in the world’s population could increase the number of victims of FGM.
Why does female genital mutilation take place?
Contrary to what many may think, this cruel custom has no religious origin. Most of the problem is linked to lack of education and to the refusal of abandoning habits that are considered normal, if not fundamental, for community life. Indeed, mutilation represents a symbolic – and material – form of the definitive transition from childhood to adulthood – therefore, to marriage – thus favoring community cohesion.
Nevertheless, the phenomenon doesn’t affect only developing countries, but Western ones too, where it is carried out by those families coming from places where FGM keeps being seen as a ritual.
The abolition of such practices must be prompted. Observing this day is a movement for the rights of women and their bodies, as well as the protection of their physical health- which can be tremendously affected later in life. Education and support to the females are benefit in fighting violence against women and girls as a whole.
Writer is a student of Nursing in Rajiv Gandhi College of Nursing Jammu