Female Genital Mutilation: Causes and Solutions

female genital mutilation

Female genital mutilation (FGM) has complex causes, yet simple solutions. There is a great need to break the silence among women who have been victimized and traumatized by this practice, which involves permanent damage to a woman’s external sexual organs. There are four different kinds of mutilation, all in varying degrees of severity. FGM involves removing part of or the entire clitoris, which is a female pleasure sex organ. FGM can also include removal of the of the labia minora, which are the inner lips surrounding the vagina, and narrowing of the vaginal opening using parts of the inner or outer lips (also known as the labia majora). Other forms of FGM  include practices where the female genitals are actually cauterised and scraped, as well as pricked and pierced.

These practices are common in the Middle East and Northern Africa, where the Muslim religion is prevalent. Although there is no scriptural basis in the Koran for this practice, it is a common rite of passage that is looked upon with a double-edged sword of pride and shame in having this practice done. FGM occurs in girls as early as infanthood and  up to age 15. There are over 125 million girls and women who have suffered this practice, and more than 3 million women and children are at risk of being victimized by FGM yearly.

Surprisingly enough, female genital mutilation is practiced in the United States as well, and it is a well-kept secret that stems from the fact that FGM is a community’s problem, not just a woman’s problem. There are 150,000 to 200,000 girls in the U.Ss that are at risk of being subjected to the procedure, and that risk stems from the secrecy and guarded silence that surrounds the practice in this country, despite FGM being outlawed in 1997. The influx of Africans to America brought a collectivist mindset (meaning there is a stronger influence from family and community as opposed to Western individualism) that heightens the risk as well.

Female genital mutilation thrives on pressure from the community and a sense of ill-intended tradition, causing women to be more concerned with being accepted by the community instead of  finding solutions and protecting the health and well-being of their daughters.  Many victims are coming forward to tell their stories, and one woman recounted how she was forced on a table, where she tried to fight the men who were to carry out the procedure. One of the men told her to stop being cowardly and that it didn’t hurt. She remembered other women in her community giving her candy and treats and even money, as if it were a celebratory event such as birthdays and marriages. Community and religious leaders keep the practice going, wielding their control and influence on the community to keep perpetuating it, and maintaining this control in societies where they have a patriarchal chain of command.

FGM leaves physical and mental scars well beyond childhood. Urinary tract infections, painful intercourse and childbirth, cysts and infertility plague many of its victims, yet there are solutions, all which involve creating more awareness, more empathy instead of apathy, and more women taking a stand and organizing, as well as being more educated about their own bodies. Removing the guilt and shame that is associated with one of the most important parts of the female body, as well as teaching women that this special organ is created to solely give pleasure and that they have a right to feel pleasure would be a firm foundation for change.

Across the globe there are clinics that specialize in rebuilding the clitoris and restoring the genitals to their proper function. There are also grassroots organizations that fund free FGM repair operations through donations. However, there is more to be done. FGM is a systematic oppression, created by societies that place little to no value on girls and women.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is working to create advocates that will work with community leaders and health providers, as well as implementing legal and political mandates that focus on the rights of women. Research has been done on the psychological effects of FGM, and the findings of this research are being implemented by providing counseling and therapy to women and children who have been traumatized by this practice. Female genital mutilation’s causes are rooted in misogyny and shame, but there are solutions, and there is hope.

By Adrianne Hill


World Health Organization

Daughters of Eve

NBC News

3 Responses to "Female Genital Mutilation: Causes and Solutions"