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What is FGM?

Defining FGM
Woman with clenched fists holding razor

What is FGM?

FGM is defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as “the partial or total removal of external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”

To clarify: the practice has no health benefits for girls or women.

Why is it done?

“The reasons why female genital mutilations are performed vary from one region to another as well as over time, and include a mix of sociocultural factors within families and communities. The most commonly cited reasons are:

  • Where FGM is a social convention (social norm), the social pressure to conform to what others do and have been doing, as well as the need to be accepted socially and the fear of being rejected by the community, are strong motivations to perpetuate the practice. In some communities, FGM is almost universally performed and unquestioned.
  • FGM is often considered a necessary part of raising a girl, and a way to prepare her for adulthood and marriage.
  • FGM is often motivated by beliefs about what is considered acceptable sexual behaviour. It aims to ensure premarital virginity and marital fidelity. FGM is in many communities believed to reduce a woman’s libido and therefore believed to help her resist extramarital sexual acts. When a vaginal opening is covered or narrowed (Type 3), the fear of the pain of opening it, and the fear that this will be found out, is expected to further discourage extramarital sexual intercourse among women with this type of FGM.
  • Where it is believed that being cut increases marriageability, FGM is more likely to be carried out.
  • FGM is associated with cultural ideals of femininity and modesty, which include the notion that girls are clean and beautiful after removal of body parts that are considered unclean, unfeminine or male.
  • Though no religious scripts prescribe the practice, some practitioners often believe the practice has religious support.
  • Religious leaders take varying positions with regard to FGM: some promote it, some consider it irrelevant to religion, and others contribute to its elimination.
  • Local structures of power and authority, such as community leaders, religious leaders, circumcisers, and even some medical personnel can contribute to upholding the practice. Likewise, when informed, they can be effective advocates for abandonment of FGM.
  • In most societies where FGM is practised, it is considered a cultural tradition, which is often used as an argument for its continuation.
  • In some societies, recent adoption of the practice is linked to copying the traditions of neighbouring groups. Sometimes it has started as part of a wider religious or traditional revival movement.”

(Taken from the World Health Organisation)

“In these societies where FGM is practised, culture, religion, and social practice cannot be separated from each other as they are all considered to be “culture” as we would conceptualise it.” – University of Aberdeen BAME forum (2022)

FGM has no religious basis, however, in communities where religious leaders hold authority, it may be upheld in a tangle of culture and societal norms.

When does it happen?

“FGM is mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and adolescence, and occasionally on adult women”.

WHO article

This article is from the free online

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM): Health, Law, and Socio-Cultural Sensitivity

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