Female Genital Mutilation

Female genital mutilation (FGM), is a cultural practice that has affected 200 million women and girls, the majority of whom are African. The practice involves any and all procedures that involve altering or injuring the female genitalia for non-medical reasons.  There are four forms of FGM, the most common being the clitoridectomy and excision. Both involve the partial or total removal of the clitoris and excision also includes the removal of the labia minora. In Africa, FGM is practiced in ~28 countries focussed in the area ranging from Tanzania to Egypt. Because FGM is an ethnic practice, the ethnic communities often spread across country borders bringing FGM with them, leading to its spread among populations. FGM is also prevalent in countries in the Middle East and Asia, and migrants from these countries have caused its dispersal in Canada, America, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe.   

The reasoning behind FGM lies in the social and cultural beliefs of those who practice it. Where FGM is the social norm there is societal pressure of a woman’s communal acceptance. The large motivation behind FGM is a woman’s marrigabilty as FGM aims to ensure premarital virginity, marital fidelity, and a woman’s preparation for adulthood. It is considered a cultural tradition which is often used as an argument for its continuation.

Female genital mutilation is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women which has led to the strong motivation behind western cultures’ desire for its limitation and elimination. The rights violated include, the rights of children, a person’s rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death due to the numerous and common health consequences. For westerners, FGM represents inequality between the sexes and is an extreme form of discrimination against women and girls.

In response to the increased awareness of the lasting harm FGM poses for women’s health and the numerous rights of those women that it violates, female genital mutilation has a host of NGO’s and IGO’s fighting against the practice and the discrimination it represents. One of those NGO’s includes an organization called 28 Too Many. 28 Too Many is a registered charity in England and Wales established in 2010 to undertake research and provide knowledge and tools to those working to end FGM in African countries and the worldwide diaspora. The NGO makes globally available the data from their research through Country Profile Reports and Thematic Papers to engage key influencers, encouraging them to advocate for change within their sphere of influence; this could include legislation and community education and action.

Another NGO, the FGM National Clinical Group, is a UK-based registered charity committed to working with women and their daughters who have been affected or are at risk of FGM and are living in the UK. Their mission is to advocate for FGM to become a part of the core syllabus in the training of midwives, nurses, obstetricians, gynecologists, and mental health professionals. They also aim to perform research of FGM victims residing in the UK.

The United Nations, an IGO has been concerned with the issue of FGM since 1948 within the context of the universal declaration of human rights. With FGM addressed as a violation of international human rights law, it places responsibility on governments who have a duty to ensure the enjoyment of human rights in their jurisdictions which allow the various government organization fighting against FGM to take action.

With the joint efforts of NGO’s and IGO’s, the issue of female genital mutilation has made progress over the years including the implementation of laws against FGM in 26 African and Middle Eastern countries, as well as in 33 other countries with migrant populations from FGM practicing countries. The legislation and actions of NGO’s and IGO’s has led to improvements in public policy, but FGM is still highly prevalent in Africa. For example, Somalia has a 98% prevalence rate. This rate and those alike still exist because even with the legislation, FGM is practiced in secret and prosecution is rare. The only way FGM is going to be eliminated is through spreading awareness of the issue and the sustained collaboration from all parts of society. The limitation and elimination of FGM by way of NGO’s and IGO’s can only be done with rightful funding, and the United States State Department could help greatly by taking the issue into serious consideration and providing organizations with the money they need to keep fighting.