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Female mutilation, a practice that is still happening. Why?

Female genital mutilation has consequences for both physical and mental health .

African girl

To date, there are more than 200 million women and girls in the world who have been victims of genital mutilation practices. Photo: Pixabay

LatinAmerican Post | Miriam Guasch

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Leer en español: Mutilación femenina, una práctica que aún sigue ejecutándose. ¿Por qué?

Female genital mutilation permanently damages girls' bodies, causing excruciating pain, emotional trauma, and life-threatening complications during pregnancy and childbirth.

To date, there are more than 200 million women and girls in the world who have been victims of genital mutilation practices. More than 3 million African girls are subjected to various forms of female genital mutilation each year. To abolish this practice once and for all, it is necessary to focus on sex education and find socially acceptable alternatives for the communities concerned.

Practiced in more than 30 countries around the world, not only in Africa and the Middle East, but also in some countries in Asia and Latin America, female genital mutilation (FGM) (or "female circumcision") refers to a whole procedure that involves the total removal of the female external genitalia or other injuries to the female genitalia for non-medical reasons.

Female genital mutilation is generally practiced on women between the ages of infancy and 15 years. As a general rule, a circumcised woman is a woman belonging to the community, who also usually works as a birth attendant. Those who practice FGM often use a blade. Men cannot attend the interventions; Therefore, the male community ignores or does not care about the suffering that girls experience during the operation, which is often performed in precarious sanitary conditions, without resorting to anesthetics, antibiotics or sterile material, exposing the victim to the risk of death from bleeding and infection.
FGM is generally divided into four categories:

  1. Clitoridectomy
  2. Clitoral excision
  3. Infibulation
  4. Other risky practices in the genital area: punctures, perforations, incision of the clitoris and/or labia, scraping of the vaginal opening or cutting of the vagina (gishiri cuts) and cauterization of the clitoris and surrounding tissues by burns.

This classification takes into account the type of operation, which ranges from partial or total removal of the clitoris to narrowing of the vaginal opening through female infibulation. In the latter case, an additional practice of reopening the suture performed is necessary, in order to facilitate the sexual act or delivery. The women are then infibulated and defibulated multiple times throughout their lives, causing untold suffering.

Risks and effects: physical and psychological damage

Women, girls and adolescents do not benefit from this practice; on the contrary, those who are subjected suffer serious damage both from a psychological and physical point of view . FGM, in the short term, can cause severe pain, excessive bleeding, and difficulty urinating and, in the long term, it can favor the appearance of cysts, infections, infertility, decreased sexual pleasure and complications in childbirth, also increasing the risk of death of the woman during childbirth or neonatal death. In 27 countries where the practice is widespread, the treatment of FGM-related complications costs about $ 1.4 billion a year.

In some cases, the practice is medicalized by health professionals to make it, in their opinion, safer. However, the WHO considers FGM to be illegal even when it is medicalized.

Where is FGM practiced today?

As I already mentioned, out of a total of 30 countries in Africa and the Middle East, 7 apply the practice of female genital mutilation to almost all the girls who reside in their respective countries.

Thanks to the laws currently in force in 24 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, statistical data on the spread of the practice of female genital mutilation in some African states gives hope of a substantial decrease of the phenomenon, especially among new generations of young people. However, according to WHO estimates, more than 3 million girls are subjected to the practice each year.

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Although it is recognized by the international community as a serious violation of human rights, this type of practice is still widespread throughout the world. Taking into account, for example, the sustained population growth in Africa, up to 68 million girls will be at risk of FGM before the end of 2030.

The reasons why female genital mutilation is still practiced

FGM is still widely justified in some parts of the world for reasons related to cultural traditions. Especially in rural contexts where it is socially accepted, the practice is recommended for girls for its supposed aesthetic and hygienic benefits. Sociocultural motivations are mainly linked to factors such as social pressure and the need to respect local customs. There is also the general idea that female mutilation is a practice of religious inspiration, linked to supposed feminine ideals of beauty, chastity and respectability, essential ingredients to be accepted by the future husband as a legal wife. In fact, it reflects the deep gender inequalities present in a given society.

An app for the fight against FGM

The Restorers, a group of five Kenyan students, have developed an application to help victims and potential victims of female genital mutilation. In 2019, his project was shortlisted for the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

Their candidacy marked an important step in the global fight against female genital mutilation and is testament to the strategic importance of the new generations of girls. Today's young people can become bearers of an alternative social message to the traditional one, capable of containing and eliminating the practice of female genital mutilation in all parts of the world.

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