FGM and Female Cutting: The Facts

FGM and Female Cutting: The Facts

FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) is the injury or removal of some or all of the external genitalia for reasons that are not medical or health-related. It is often referred to as ‘cutting’ or ‘female circumcision’ and is practised predominantly across Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Sadly, it is more common than you might think. Statistically, according to the World Health Organization, an estimated 200 million girls and women have been cut. This article will tell you more about it, and answer some of the most common questions.

How Many Types of FGM Are There?

First of all, let’s look at what external genitalia look like on a female body without FGM. Below, we can see that the vagina sits behind the urethra (where urine comes out), which is below the head of the clitoris. Around these three are the inner and outer labia. However, in female cutting, some or all of the labia and clitoris are removed.

External female genitalia. Image Credit: Brook

There are four main types of FGM. In Type 1, all or part of the clitoris is removed. In Type 2, the inner labia are also removed along with part or all of the outer labia. Meanwhile, Type 3, which is considered to be the most extreme, involves narrowing the vaginal opening with stitches. Which often comes with partial or total labia removal. Other injuries such as cutting, burning, or scraping are sometimes referred to as Type 4. Naturally, all of these types are painful, and can lead to further complications, which we talk about in more detail, later in this article.

Types of FGM. Image Credit: NESTAC

Sadly, when FGM is performed, the person doing the procedure is usually not a nurse or doctor. As such, there is usually no anaesthetic being used. In other words, it can be extremely painful for the person undergoing the procedure. The most common tools used are razor blades, knives, or even scissors. Thus, the rate of infection can also be extremely high.

What are the signs of FGM?

Cutting has no health benefits and can cause harm in many different ways. The procedure itself is extremely painful and causes bleeding which can be severe. As well as this, it can lead to infections, urinary problems, and even death in some cases.

Longer-term, people can experience problems with urination, menstruation (periods), childbirth. Additionally, it causes sexual issues such as pain, bleeding and decreased enjoyment of sex. The toll on mental health can include PTSD, anxiety, and depression.

Most at risk of cutting are girls between infancy and fifteen years of age. In countries where FGM is illegal such as the UK, girls are usually taken abroad during the summer to be cut as this allows more time to ‘heal’.

Photo by George Jr Kamau from Pexels
Image credit: George Jr Kamau from Pexels

How Does Female Genital Mutilation Affect Childbirth?

Understandably, FGM can cause numerous problems during pregnancy and childbirth. These include severe bleeding, pain, and an increased risk of caesarian section for mothers. Meanwhile, there is an increased risk of breathing difficulties in the newborn baby. Women who have had type 3 FGM may need a surgical procedure called ‘deinfibulation’ to re-open the vagina.

If you are pregnant or trying for a baby and have been cut, it is important to tell your midwife. This is so they can support you with any additional care you and your baby might need. No healthcare professional will ever judge you, but it will help them to provide you with the right level of care.

Where is FGM Practiced the Most?

It is estimated that over 200 million women living today have been cut. Countries with the highest proportion (over 90% of girls and women) include Guinea, Mali, Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Egypt. Unfortunately, according to the UNFPA 72% of FGM is committed by a health professional, in Egypt. However, there are currently many programmes underway to help change attitudes and eradicate this harmful procedure.

Across the world, girls are cut for a wide range of reasons. These include cultural, religious, and societal reasons globally, including beliefs that it prevents adultery and increases the likelihood of marriage.

Girl holding up a sign that FGM is child abuse. BBC
Image credit: BBC

Last year, over 6500 women and girls in the UK and half a million in the US were found to have been cut. The risk remains highest for girls being taken by their family to other countries for the procedure. As such, it is important to recognise some of the risks, and report any suspecting cases to the authorities. Readers can do this using the details given, below.

What is the penalty for FGM?

Cutting is classed as violence against women under Human Rights Law. In the UK it is illegal to perform female genital mutilation. At the same time, it is also illegal to help anyone else perform FGM, or take someone abroad for the procedure. Performing it can result in 14 years in prison, or 7 years for failing to protect a child from it.

Recently, FGM has been made illegal in 26 Middle Eastern and African countries. In addition to this, 33 countries with migrants from FGM-practising countries, including the USA and Australia, have also made the procedure illegal. Although the laws are enforced to varying degrees, the amount of girls and women being cut in most countries is falling.

Who should Female Genital Mutilation be reported to?

If you’re from the UK:

  • Statements opposing FGM in various languages can be found from the UK government here
  • If you’re worried that you may be taken abroad for FGM, you must call the police on 999
  • If you’re abroad you can call the Foreign and Commonwealth Office +44 (0) 20 7008 1500
  • NSPCC FGM helpline 0800 028 3550 or fgmhelp@nspcc.org.uk.

If you’re from the USA:

  • FGM-opposing statements in various languages from the US government here.
  • Tip line: 1-866-347-2423 or HRV.ICE@ice.dhs.gov
  • National Child Abuse Hotline open 24/7: 1-800-4-A-Child.

To find out more and support national and global efforts to end FGM, check out 28 Too Many and Forward UK.

Women talking about their personal experiences of FGM. Video credit: NHS via YouTube.


Stef is a medical doctor and public health specialist, with a passion for the prevention of illness. When she isn't working at her day job or trying to keep her plants alive, she often has her nose in a book or goes for a walk with an audiobook for company.

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