According to study by the US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Women’s Health and The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over a half million women and girls in the US are at risk or survivors of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C).
What is FGM/C?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), FGM/C comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
The practice is mostly carried out by traditional circumcisers, who often play other central roles in communities, such as attending childbirths. In many settings, health care providers perform FGM/C due to the erroneous belief that the procedure is safer when medicalized. WHO strongly urges health professionals not to perform such procedures.
Types of FGM/C
WHO classifies FGM/C into 4 different types:
Type 1: Clitoridectomy, this is the partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals), and in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).
Type 2: Excision, this is the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora (the inner folds of the vulva), with or without excision of the labia majora (the outer folds of skin of the vulva ).
Type 3: Infibulation, this is the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the labia minora, or labia majora, sometimes through stitching, with or without removal of the clitoris (clitoridectomy).
Type 4: Other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.
Are there health benefits to FGM/C?
There aren’t any health benefits from the practice of FGM/C. Immediate risk factors of FGM/C can include:
- Excessive Bleeding
- Infections ex: HIV, Tetanus, etc
- Inability to Heal
- Urinary Issues
- Injury to other areas of the Vagina
Long term factors can include:
- Continued Urinary Issues
- Pregnancy/Childbirth complications
- Menstrual/Period problems
- Inability to feel sexual pleasure
- Trauma/Psychological Problems
- Scar Tissue
- Need for further surgeries (some types of FGM/C require the vagina to be cut open later for childbirth or engage in sexual intercourse).
Is FGM/C a religious practice?
No, the practice of FGM/C predates Christianity and Islam.
Why is FGM/C practiced?
FGM/C is practiced for a variety of reasons depending on the culture. Some reasons can include:
- Keeping girls clean and pure (by removing parts of the vagina that are considered unclean or unfeminine)
- Societal pressure/norms
- Increases the chance for girls to get married
- Cultural Practice
- Proof of Virginity
- Decreases premarital sexual behavior
Does FGM/C only occur in African cultures?
No. FGM/C occurs globally and affects women and girls in Africa, Asia, Middle East, USA, South America, Australia, Europe, Canada and the UK.
Is FGM/C illegal in the US?
Yes, a federal law was passed in 1996 titled: 8 U.S.C. 116 - Female genital mutilation, prohibiting the procedure in the US and knowingly taking girls out of the country with the purpose to undergo FGM/C.
How are Women and Girls in the US at risk?
Vacation Cutting: Families travel back to their country of origin for a visit and the girls (many times unbeknownst) undergo FGM/C.
Illegal Procedures: The procedure is done illegally in the US by medical professionals, or leaders flown in from countries where FGM/C is practiced. It can also be performed by someone in the community who already lives in the US.
How does FGM/C intersect with HIV and AIDS?
- The use of unsterilized tools for FGM/C can be an instrument for HIV transmission among women and girls.
- Scarred or dry vulva for survivors of FGM/C can be torn during sexual intercourse, increasing the risk of HIV transmission if their partner is living with the virus.
How is RAHMA responding to FGM/C in the US?
Through a grant from the The US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Women’s Health; RAHMA has partnered with The George Washington University (GWU), Milken School of Public Health on a three year project addressing FGM/C in DC, MD and VA (DMV). In this area, over 51,000 women and girls are at risk. RAHMA and GWU will examine the health care needs of women and girls who experienced FGM/C or at risk in the DMV and develop a toolkit for organizations across the US to assist in the prevention of FGM/C and actively engage with primary prevention efforts.