Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a cultural practice started 2000 years ago that involves cutting or removing female genital tissue. An estimated 100-140 million girls and women worldwide are currently living with the consequences of FGM. This procedure has no religious basis or medical benefits and oftentimes can lead to death. The causes of FGM include a mix of cultural and social factors within families and communities. An estimated 3 million girls undergo the procedure annually. Young girls undergo female circumcisions sometime between infancy and the age of 15.
The type and severity of the procedure used varies depending on the ethic group, country and socioeconomic status. In some countries only small cuts are made but in others the entire clitoris and labia is removed only leaving a small hole. Female circumcision is performed without the care of medically trained personnel and without anesthesia. The girl is held down by older women to prevent movement and is cut using a razor blade, scissors or a knife. In the more severe cases, any available sharp object such as a tin lid or broken glass is used. The girl will then have to be stitched up and her legs bound for up to 40 days. Victims of FGM often combat psychological issues as well as suffer from physical consequences.
In addition to psychological effects, the immediate physical complications include: severe pain, shock, hemorrhaging, and bacterial infection. The long term complications are more severe and include: chronic pelvic infections, sexual dysfunction, increased risk of childbirth complications, and infertility.
Many assume that FGM is only an issue in other parts of the world such as Africa and Asia. However, it is becoming a problem in the United States as well. The practice of FGM is so ingrained in some cultures that it defines members even after they move to other parts of the world. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that between 150,000-200,000 girls in the US are in danger of being taken overseas during their time off from school to undergo vacation cutting. Some families even pay to bring someone from their homeland to the U.S. to perform circumcisions.
FGM is seen as a human rights issue and is recognized on the international level. Although, banned in the U.S. since 1996, there is almost no legal protection against FGM and it has become a serious issue in most urban centers in the U.S.
Despite some legislation and society’s views on the issue, change must start on the cultural level to end this brutal and inhumane practice.