FGM is a tradition that is practised in many African Countries including Tanzania. An estimated 100 to 140 million girls and women in the world today have undergone some form of female genital mutilation and two million girls are at risk from the practice each year. The majority of these women live in Sub-Saharan African but the practice is also know in the Middle East and Asia.
Though the practice is performed for various reasons, FGM is a violation of human rights of girls and women and it is a grave threat to their health.
Frequently asked questions
What is Female Genital Mutilation?
Female Genital Mutilation is a practice that involves the complete or partial removal or alteration of the genitalia for non-medical reason. The female external genital organs are:
1. The prepuce
2. The clitoris
3. The urethral opening
4. The vaginal opening
5. The labia minora or small lips
6. The labia majora or big lips
7. The perineum
8. The rectum
FGM affects the lives of girls and women in many und diverse ways. They include the physical, sexual, reproductive, mental, social and emotional health of women.
2. What are the types of Female Genital Mutilation?
There are four types of Female Genital Mutilation, namely:
Type 1: Cutting of the prepuce/hood and cutting of part of the entire clitoris. This is also called clitoridectomy.
Type 2: Cutting the prepuce, the clitoris and part or total removal of the small lips. The large lips are left intact and the vagina is not closed. The amount of tissue removed varies from community to community. This is the most common type of FGM.
Type 3: Infibulated genitalia of Pharaonic Circumcision. This is the type where all the genitalia are removed and the two sides are sewn together. After healing, a scar which does not stretch is left. A small opening is left for the passage of urine and menstrual blood.
Type 4 involves pricking, piercing or incision of the clitoris and/or labia, burning of the clitoris and surrounding tissue, scraping or cutting of the vagina or surrounding tissues and introduction of corrosive substances or herbs into the vagina. It involves also pulling of the labia minora or smaller lips to make them long.
3. Which instruments are used?
Female Genital Mutilation is carried out using special knives, scissors, razors or pieces of broken glass. On rare occasions, sharp stones and burning have been reported to be used. The instruments may be reused without cleaning. This could lead to transmission of diseases like sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS, tetanus and Hepatitis B.
4. How is the operation done?
The girl or woman is held down tightly by a number of women including relatives. Sometimes a drug (anaesthetic) is applied to the tissue in the area. In some areas the small lips are pulled longer by using sticks. The legs are pulled apart. Parts of the genital are cut. The wound is dubbed with alcohol, lemon juice, shea butter, coconut oil, ash, herbal mixtures, porridge or cow dung. The girl’s legs are bound together until the wound heals. The operation itself takes 15 to 20 minutes.
5. Who performs genital mutilation?
It is performed by an elderly woman in the village. She is designated as the practitioner. She may also be a traditional birth attendant. Traditional healers, grandmothers and sometimes village barbers could also do it. He or she is respected in the community and circumcision is his or her source of income. Sometimes the practitioner is invited from another community or from neighbouring countries.
6. How safe is the operation?
Female Genital Mutilation is often carried out under unhygienic conditions, thus exposing girls and women undergoing the operation to diseases. FGM performed in whatever environment is not safe.
7. At what age is Female Genital Mutilation performed?
The age at which Female Genital Mutilation is performed differs a great deal. It depends on the ethnic group or geographical location. In some ethnic groups it is performed on children between 4 and 10 years. It can also be performed at puberty, during pregnancy, during childbirth or at death.
8. What is the origin of Female Genital Mutilation?
This is not known, but according to speculations it started in ancient Egypt. Some also believe it started during the slave trade when black slaves entered ancient Arab societies or during the arrival of Islam in some parts of Sub-Saharan Africa. Some also claim it started independently while some believe it started as a part of puberty rites among some ethnic groups in Sub-Saharan Africa.
9. What are some of the reasons for performing Female Genital Mutilation?
– Some believe that unless a girl’s clitoris is removed, she will not become a mature woman or become a full member of the human race and will have no right to associate with her peers and ancestors.
– Some communities believe in a woman’s genitalia having the power to blind anyone attending to her during childbirth, cause death, physical deformity or madness of her infant or cause death of her husband.
– FGM ensures girls’ virginity which is necessary for marriage and family honour.
– FGM is the rite of passage into womanhood and is accompanied by ceremonies to mark it.
– Girls are under pressure by peers and family members to do it or otherwise face rejection.
– FGM is the source of income for the one who performs the operation.
– That the genitals of the woman are ugly and dirty and that they will continue to grow if they are not cut away.
– FGM is linked to spiritual purity.
– FM is believed to make girls/women beautiful.
– Muslim societies which practise FGM tend to believe it is required by the Koran.
– The unexcised girl is believed to have an over-active and uncontrollable sex drive.
– The belief is that the uncut clitoris will grow big und pressure on it will arouse intense sexual desire.
– The tight opening or narrowing of the vagina opening enhances male sexual pleasure.
10. What are some of the complications associated with Female Genital Mutilation?
The damage done to the female sexual organs and functions as a result of FGM is extensive and irreversible. Some of the complications are as follows:
Short term physical complications:
– Severe pain
– Infection (Tetanus, HIV, Hepatitis B)
– Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
– Fracture or dislocations
– Acute urine retention
– General blood poisoning (Septicemia)
– Failure of the wound to heal properly
– Injury to adjacent tissues: urethra, vagina, perineum und rectum
Long-term physically complications:
– Difficulty in passing urine (damage of the urethra)
– Urinary tract infection on and off
– Pelvic infection disease (infection in the reproductive system)
– Inability to have babies (infertility)
– Keloid scar (overgrowth/Tough scar)
– Cysts and abscesses on the vulva
– Clitoral neuroma
– Difficulties in menstrual flow
– Calculus formation in vagina/Vesico-vagina fistula, Recto-vagina fistula
– Problems in childbirth (obstructed labour, severe tears, bleeding, rupture of uterus)
– Failure of wound to heal
– sexual dysfunction
– painful sexual intercourse
– Anexety reactions
– Chronic irrability
– Episodes of depression
11. Is Female Genital Mutilation against human rights?
Yes. There is documented evidence that FGM damages the health of girls and women. It infringes on their rights to the highest attainable standard of physical, sexual and mental health.
– Female Genital Mutilation is associated with gender inequalities.
– Female Genital Mutilation is a form of discrimination against girls and women.
– Female Genital Mutilation is gruesome torture; it is cruel, inhuman and degrading.
– Female Genital Mutilation is an abuse of the physical, psychological and sexual health of girls and women.