Practice of FGM harmful to women



Map shows prevalence of FGM by country throughout the world.

Petra Huang, Contributing Writer

It is estimated that over 200 million women and girls across the globe have undergone female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM)  and that 3 million girls are at risk each year. FGM is the practice of intentionally altering or harming a woman’s genitalia for nonmedical purposes. Mainly concentrated in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, FGM extends across the globe. It is regarded as a cultural or traditional practice. Although some may argue that it can be a safe cultural rite of passage for a woman to choose, it is a violation of human rights, because if women and girls continue to be forced to undergo this so-called cultural practice it can never become a safe coming of age ritual.

FGM is thought to preserve a woman’s innocence, purity, cleanliness, modesty and is often a prerequisite for marriage. Every reason for practicing or performing FGM are closely related to negative views of women and girls. Female genital mutilation is a manifestation of the deeply entrenched gender imbalance seen across the world.  

In addition to the immediate problems that FGM  can cause, such as sepsis and hemorrhage among others, there are many long term complications. These long term problems often include vaginal and urinary complications, issues with childbirth and severe psychological damage.

This traditional practice cannot be a safe cultural rite of passage, even if a woman makes the conscious decision to have her clitoris removed. It still perpetuates values instituted by the patriarchy in an effort to control women. Many women and girls have no choice, because straying from the social normalcy of circumcision could be very dangerous. These women not only face ostracization, but they face violence and even death if they choose not to undergo FGM.

However, coming from Western culture, I should not be so quick to condemn the practice. If I want to see the practice eradicated, I know that the change must come from within the communities that practice FGM. Without understanding this culture and a commitment to end cutting from both sides, the practice will never end.

In response to anti-FGM movements, people are reminded that in the 1950s, clitorodectomy was practiced across Western Europe and the U.S. as a treatment for hysteria, epilepsy, mental disorders, masturbation and melancholia. Today in Western culture, many girls and women starve themselves obsessively and undergo painful medical procedures to conform to cultural standards of beauty and femininity.

We too are influenced and often harmed by traditional gender roles and societal standards. But conforming to societal beauty standards, while it demonstrates internalized sexism, is not forced mutilation. Certain modern procedures, such as labiaplasty, serve the purpose of changing the genitals to fit a societal standard of what female genitalia should look like. However, women are not held down and cut with a rusty razor to be purified or saved for marriage. The argument that forced genital mutilation is somehow similar to making the decision to undergo plastic surgery is absurd.

The fight to eradicate this practice is now global. Many initiatives are underway and they are complete with comprehensive programs that educate people on the consequences of FGM. Removing a woman’s clitoris by force, sewing her vaginal opening shut, only to be reopened before penetration and childbirth, can never be empowering and can never be protection. As long as women and girls across the globe are forced to undergo FGM without their consent, it can never be a safe cultural rite of passage.