200 million girls in 30 countries have undergone female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and 13 million girls under the age of 15 are at risk of undergoing FGM/C. Dr. Jacinta Muteshi-Strachan, FGM researcher with Population Council, sits down with us to discuss FGM/C, (which occurs in 30 countries across Africa, Asia and possibly South America), and the impacts surrounding this severe violation of the human rights of girls and women around the world.
FGM/C involves the total or partial removal of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons. There are extreme physical impacts of this procedure, including but not limited to pain, trauma, bleeding, and heightened risk for complications related to pregnancy and delivery. There are also lasting psycho-sexual impacts of FGM/C.
The WHO has identified 4 types of cutting depending on the practicing cultural group. Reasons for FGM/C vary from community to community, but many include preparing young girls for marriage and adulthood, managing chastity or sexuality, or for beautification reasons. The most common age group to cut is between a few days after birth to 15 years old. While prevalence of the procedure seems to remain generally high, declines are evident in Kenya, Nigeria, Togo, and Benin.
FGM/C is a cultural and social norm and people who practice it do so because others in the community are practicing it. So in order to address FGM/C, we need to work to change those norms. It is vital to engage with those who have a cultural influence and to engage communities in dialogues and conversations around norms. Unfortunately, there is no ‘silver bullet’ when it comes to addressing FGM/C. It is a complex issue that can be very community specific and therefore many different responses will be needed. But, it is possible to highlight what is working in communities that have ended the practice and to offer alternatives to FGM/C.
In order to address FGM/C we must get a clearer picture and that means more research. We need to study the nature of interventions being taken to address FGM/C (what is working and why), look at the wider impacts of FGM/C (it’s relation to HIV/AIDS, child marriage, fistula, etc.), and analyze social norms more deeply.
While the picture still remains incomplete, it will be hard to accelerate the progress being made on ending FGM/C. To get a clearer picture, we need to invest more in research.