What is Female Genital Mutilation?

As defined by the World Health Organisation, female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as female genital cutting (FGC), refers to the cutting away of part or all of a girl’s external genitalia for cultural or non-medical reasons. FGM is most commonly performed on girls aged between 4 to 14—usually without their consent. Although a worldwide practice, it is most prevalent among certain African, Middle Eastern and Asian nations and communities.

In cases where the mutilation is performed by someone without medical training, the procedure is often carried out without anaesthetic or sterilisation. Sharp, crude objects such as broken glass, a tin lid, scissors, or a razor blade may be used.

The main reasons certain cultures still practice FGM include:

  • Controlling or reducing female sexuality: FGM is used in some societies to preserve and prove a girl’s virginity and acts as a prerequisite for honourable marriage.
  • Cleanliness: Some believe the secreting parts of the genitalia are dirty and should therefore be removed.
  • Aesthetic: Some think that FGM enhances the beauty of female genitals, in the same way some consider male circumcision to enhance the beauty of male genitals.
  • Religion: Some mistake FGM to be a religious requirement.

Some hard facts about female genital mutilation

The consequences of Female Genital Mutilation

Mutilated/cut girls face irreversible lifelong health risks, including:

  • Physical and psychological trauma
  • Infertility
  • Potential childbirth complications and newborn deaths.
  • Damage to the urethra and anus
  • Problems urinating
  • HIV infection
  • Death through shock from the immense pain, trauma or excessive bleeding


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Footnotes and Further Reading

  1. “Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)”, World Health Organisation
  2. “What is FGM?”, End FGM European Network
  3. “Female Genital Mutilation (FGM): Frequently Asked Questions”, United Nations Population Fund
  4. “Nearly 70 Million Girls Face Genital Mutilation by 2030, warns UNFPA”, United Nations Population Fund
  5. “FGM rates in East Africa drop from 71% to 8% in 20 years, study shows”, The Guardian