The partial or complete removal of a girl’s external genitals. There are no known health benefits, and in fact the girl’s body is physically harmed and damaged as a result of the practice and the removal of healthy tissue when her genitals are cut away.
The effects on girls and women who have had FGC carried out are long lasting and wide ranging, and for many will cause problems, including physical and psychological damage, throughout their lives. FGC may also be referred to as female genital mutilation, or FGM and contravenes human, women’s and child rights. Read more about why Orchid Project uses FGC rather than FGM.
More than 200 million girls and women…
Are living with the consequences of FGC around the world, and a further 30 million are at risk of being cut in the next ten years. There are 29 countries across Africa and the Middle East where FGC is carried out, although there are more countries worldwide where the practice is known to happen, including in Indonesia and Malaysia, but where little to no data are available. It’s important to note that FGC also happens in diaspora communities including in Europe, North America, and Australasia. It is estimated that there are currently 500,000 women living with the consequences of FGC in Europe for example.
The act of FGC entails…
The full or partial removal of a girl’s genitals including part or all of her labia, part or all of her clitoris, and part or all of the clitoral hood (the prepuce). The female external genital organ is called the vulva and is comprised of the labia majora (the outer lips), the labia minora (the inner lips), and the clitoris, which includes the hood known as the prepuce. In many instances the cutting will all happen in very basic conditions, without the use of anaesthesia, and with rudimentary tools which will probably not be sterilized.
The most extreme form of FGC includes the complete removal of all of a girl’s external genitals. In such situations and under the harshest conditions, FGC can also include the sewing closed of the wound with thorns or string. This is known as infibulation. A small hole is then left for menstrual blood and urine, and the wound eventually heals over, with the scar tissue forming a ‘seal’ for the vagina. This ‘seal’ will then be cut open to allow for sexual intercourse, before being cut open even further upon going into labour if the girl becomes pregnant. In some situations girls and women are often re-sewn after labour and cut again for every further labour, which in some practising countries can be numerous.
There are four different types of FGC…
These are determined by the severity of each girl’s case and are classified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as follows:
Type 1: The clitoris or clitoral hood is partially or fully removed (also known as clitoridectomy).
Type 2: As well as the clitoris, the labia minora are partially or fully removed. The labia majora may also be cut.
Type 3: The clitoris, labia minora and labia majora are cut away, and the remaining skin is sewn or sealed together leaving a tiny hole for menstrual blood and urine. This is commonly known as infibulation.
Type 4: All other harmful procedures to the female genitals including pricking, piercing, rubbing, scraping and the use of herbs or other substances.
In addition to this the WHO has developed sub-divisions for each type:
Type 1 — Partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce (clitoridectomy).
When it is important to distinguish between the major variations of Type I cutting, the following subdivisions are proposed: Type 1a, removal of the clitoral hood or prepuce only; Type 1b, removal of the clitoris with the prepuce.
Type 2 — Partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (excision).
When it is important to distinguish between the major variations that have been documented, the following subdivisions are proposed: Type 2a, removal of the labia minora only; Type 2b, partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora; Type 2c, partial or total removal of the clitoris, the labia minora and the labia majora. Note also that, in French, the term ‘excision’ is often used as a general term covering all types of female genital cutting.
Type 3 — Narrowing of the vaginal orifice with creation of a covering seal by cutting and appositioning the labia minora and/or the labia majora, with or without excision of the clitoris (infibulation).
Type 3a, removal and apposition of the labia minora; Type 3b, removal and apposition of the labia majora.
Type 4 — All other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, for example: pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterization.
Girls are usually cut…
Before they turn 14 years of age. This is of course completely dependent on the specific cultural context of each girl, with some girls being cut in infancy, and others as a teenager. In some areas of Ethiopia, for example, girls are often cut at just nine days old, and in half the countries in which FGC is practised most girls undergo the procedure before the age of five.
However, in the Central African Republic, Egypt, Chad, and Somalia about 80% of girls are cut between five and 14, often in relation to coming-of-age rituals and the marking of their passage into adulthood. Research does suggest that there may be a global move towards cutting girls at a younger age.
FGC is a violation of women’s and girl’s human rights…
And contravenes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (Banjul Charter) including its protocol on the Rights of Women, and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.
The severe health issues caused by FGC contravene the universal right to health, and also violate human rights on the principles of inequality and discrimination on the basis of sex and as such impacts, increases and perpetuates inequality. FGC is also viewed as a way of forcibly controlling women’s sexuality and attempting to ensure a woman will be faithful to her partner. Human rights are also one of the most successful routes into ending FGC and you can read more about the human rights based education approach to end the practice that is carried out by our partner Tostan.