Updated: Sep 13, 2020
Author: Anita Lynch, UNAAWA Intern
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) refers to “procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons”, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). There are no health benefits but rather numerous serious health complications that arise post-procedure including but not limited to bleeding, childbirth complications, cysts, infections, problems urinating and psychological trauma.
Despite this, more than 200 million women and children are still recorded to have been mutilated in just thirty countries around the world currently. These numbers are especially high in countries including Egypt, Ethiopia and Indonesia. Egypt has the highest number of females that have been genitally mutilated, with approximately 87.2 per cent of the female population aged between 15 and 49 believed to have been effected. In Indonesia, it is estimated that approximately 13.4 million Indonesian girls below the age of 12 have experienced FGM.
So why do these nations still practice something that has been scientifically and medically proven to physically and mentally damage those upon which the procedure is inflicted? The answer lies within long-held cultural practices and beliefs surrounding women's chastity and sexual purity status until marriage. Some extreme forms of FGM mean that the female must have an operation in order to re-open her birth canal when it is time to have marital sex, or for childbirth - once again inflicting trauma and recurring health problems upon her.
Many experts and leaders worldwide have condemned FGM practices including The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, The UN, UNICEF and WHO. Indonesia attempted to ban the practice in 2006 but religious groups at the time made such protest that the government eventually removed the ban and instead enforced FGM to be practiced by health professionals, where only the clitoral hood is removed non-invasively. This regulation was once again removed in 2013 in response to public outcry.
Policy reformation is not the only avenue in which change can be made in order to stamp out practices of FGM. The UN endorses the method through which communities practice ‘collective abandonment’. This involves the whole of a community agreeing to end the practice of FGM collectively, thus preventing any repercussions that could be felt by individuals/families whom choose not to engage in FGM practices within communities in which it is still normalised and pervasive. Whether it is through this collective community-action process, or through an overarching authority figure, it is clear that change does need to occur so as to prevent the further mutilation and traumatisation of the next generations of women within these countries.