Female Genital Mutilations (FGM) – What are they?

Image by Helmut Strasil from Pixabay

The phrase Female Genital Mutilations (FGM) refers to all forms of partial or complete removal of female external genitals, or other modifications of the female genital organs, performed for cultural or other non-medical purposes.

FGMs are an extremely serious violation of women’s and girls’ human rights. They consist in the partial removal of a healthy organ (the clitoris) and sometimes also of the labia minora (inner labia). In the most invasive form of FGM, which is called “infibulation”, the labia majora (external labia) are cut and partially sutured. This reduces the vaginal opening to a very small hole and has very serious consequences for sexual relationships and for childbirth. Even in their least invasive forms (for instance, ‘pricking’, which involves the compression of the clitoris and of the labia minora, or other practices such as piercing, incising, scraping or cauterization), FGMs involve an intervention on a healthy and highly sensitive organ, unlike male circumcision, which is performed simply on a skin fold, not on an organ or a muscle.

What are the complications of the FGMs?

Physical problems:

  • Painful menstrual cycles
  • Difficulties and pain when urinating
  • Infections of the urinary tract
  • Impossibility or difficulty in undergoing gynaecological examinations
  • Vaginal scars
  • Vaginal constriction
  • Partial or complete inability to experience sexual pleasure
  • Problems during childbirth, risk of undergoing caesarean and/or premature birth
  • Risk of serious haemorrhage and post-partum death due to difficulties associated with the healing of the cut

Psychological and relational problems:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Other psychological problems (e.g. fear, lack of trust and anger towards family members, self-harm, psycho-somatic disturbances that limit the ability to fall pregnant etc.)

Where are they practiced and why?

FGMs are mainly present in 28 sub-Saharan Africa countries, but also in Oman, Yemen and Indonesia (see map).
Women and girls who have undergone or risk to undergo the practice live everywhere in the world, including Italy and Europe.
In the communities where FGMs are performed, it is believed that girls that did not undergo the practice cannot get married, have children and lead a respectable life. Cutting the clitoris, it is believed, protects girls from the negative consequences of their uncontrollable and promiscuous “sexual appetite”, which may damage their possibility of getting married or cause them to be repudiated once they are married.

Although the practice is now outlawed in all the African countries where it is widespread and in many countries that receive immigrants, including Italy, FGMs keep being performed due to a complex network of religious and/or cultural factors, and especially because they are perceived as a social norm whose goal is represented as positive for the women themselves. In order to counter this phenomenon, it is therefore necessary to undermine such convictions, since it is in fact amply demonstrated that women and girls who did not undergo the practice can not only get married, have healthy children and be respected, but are also free of pain, live better lives and respect their husbands. Because they did not suffer traumas or other medical complications, they can study and find a good job to contribute to the family economy, without incurring in costly and threatening health problems.

FGMs are also a crime under Italian law, punishable with a sentence of 4 to 12 years imprisonment (art. 538 of Criminal Law)

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Help against female genitale mutilation (FGM)

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