The impacts of FGC are varied and range from problems at the time a girl is cut, through to problems with periods, sex and childbirth, as well as potential impacts on fertility.
Which international human rights provisions does FGC violate?
FGC contravenes the following international and regional treaties:
• Universal Declaration of Human Rights
• Convention on the Rights of the Child
• Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
• African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Banjul Charter) including its Protocol on the Rights of Women
• African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child
Is FGC a violation of women’s and children’s rights?
Female genital cutting is widely recognised as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. At the most basic level, FGC damages healthy tissue of a girl’s body without her permission.
It also contravenes a number of international and regional treaties and conventions including the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
FGC violates human rights principles of equality and non-discrimination on the basis of sex because it increases and perpetuates inequality. The severe health consequences caused by FGC contravene the universal right to health. FGC is a way of forcibly controlling women’s sexuality and attempting to ensure that women will be faithful to their chosen partners.
Does FGC have emotional and psychological impacts too?
Much of what we know about the psychological effects of female genital cutting is anecdotal, through hearing and reading testimonials from women who have undergone the practice. However, recent studies have shown that FGC has an impact on women’s mental wellbeing and causes post-traumatic stress.
The trauma and memory of being cut as well as the pain a cut woman may experience throughout her life, especially during sexual experiences and child birth, are also likely to result in further distress. If a woman has undergone type 3 cutting (infibulation) she may relive the initial trauma, when she is cut open and re-sewn for intercourse and at birth as well as experiencing further physical and psychological trauma.
A 2010 study about the experiences of cut girls in Iraqi Kurdistan found that:
‘All circumcised participants remembered the day of their circumcision as extremely frightening and traumatizing. Over 78% of the girls described feelings of intense fear, helplessness, horror, and severe pain, and over 74% were still suffering from intrusive re-experiences of their circumcision.’
Studies such as this one reveal that girls who undergo FGC go on to experience lower self-esteem, more anxiety and personality disorders than uncut girls of their age, as well as symptoms of depression.
Our blog from January 2012 goes into more detail about this study.
What are other side effects and what happens in later life?
Female genital cutting is linked to a range of outcomes that negatively impact upon a girl’s socio-economic opportunities. Studies show that FGC is linked to girls dropping out of school at a young age. Many girls suffer from health problems, including severely painful menstruation and bleeding throughout the month, as well as significant trauma after the cut. This leads to frequent absence from school and poor performance.
It is well documented that girls who drop out of school earlier go on to earn less and have less agency over choices of marriage and child planning when compared to their peers who have stayed in education for longer. As FGC is also a precursor to marriage, it is linked to instances of child marriage and early first pregnancy before a girl’s body is physically mature enough for birth.
FGC can have a lasting physical and psychological impact on a woman’s life. In later life, women may suffer from feelings of anxiety and depression. Sexual problems from painful intercourse may cause relationship and marital conflicts and even lead to divorce.
Women who have been cut in their childhood are known to suffer from different forms of post- traumatic stress disorders including depression as well as memory loss and blackouts, which can occur throughout her life time.
Does FGC affect childbirth?
Female genital cutting has a direct impact on reproductive health, maternal mortality and infant mortality. The highest levels of maternal and infant mortality worldwide occur in FGC practising countries.
Women who have undergone FGC are:
- 70% more likely to suffer haemorrhage after giving birth
- twice as likely to die during childbirth
- more likely to give birth to a stillborn baby than other women as a result of obstructed labour
- more susceptible to obstetric fistula
- other birth complications are common because of the effect on the elasticity of a woman’s vagina.
WHO studies show that FGC is harmful to newborns, with an additional 1-2 perinatal deaths per 100 deliveries amongst women who have been cut.
Before or during labour, if a woman has been sewn or sealed together (type 3: infibulation) she will have to be cut open (de-infibulation) to allow for the delivery. If it is common cultural practice, the woman will be re-infibulated and sewn up again after she has given birth, and cut open at every subsequent birth.