What is female genital mutilation?
Female genital mutilation involves the partial or total removal of external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
This harmful and unnecessary practice reflects deep-rooted inequality and is an extreme form of discrimination against women and girls.
FGM has no health benefits for girls or women, has no medical grounds and is significantly more likely to end in long-term health risks.
It is recognised internationally as a violation of the rights of girls and women. Right now, around 200 million women and girls around the globe are already living with the traumatising and painful consequences of FGM and 68 million more are expected to be subjected to it by 2030 (United Nations Population Fund UNFPA).
Worse still, school closures and isolation that resulted from COVID-19, led to an an increase in gender-based violence, including FGM. It is now feared an additional 2 million girls could undergo FGM as a direct result of COVID-19, according to the UNFPA.
End FGM for future generations
What are the effects of FGM?
This harmful practice poses extreme risks to a girls’ physical, menstrual and sexual health, including fertility. It’s an extreme violation of a girl’s right to ownership over her body, has the potential to cause devastating psychological trauma.
Some of the extreme short and long term effects of FGM on girls and young women are:
- Severe pain. Cutting the nerve ends and sensitive tissue causes extreme pain. The healing period is also painful.
- Trauma and shock, caused by the pain of the practice or by infection. For many girls, this practice can be forced upon them, adding immense trauma to the event.
- Excessive bleeding (haemorrhage).
- Infections; which can spread to other areas of the body.
- Urination problems. These may include urinary tract infections and pain passing urine. This may be due to tissue swelling, pain or injury to the urethra.
Impaired wound healing. Can lead to pain, infections and abnormal scarring.
- In some cases, the practice can be fatal. It can lead to infections or haemorrhage that can lead to shock.
Meet Shadia, an FGM survivor with a hope for her community
Shadia doesn’t remember when she was cut, but when she started to have severe period pain as a teenager, she asked her mother why and that’s when she found out she’d been cut as a baby.
“Up until then, I had led a normal life,” says Shadia. “I didn’t know what had happened to me.”
More than 86% of women and girls in Shadia’s country have undergone FGM. In 2020, FGM became illegal in Sudan, but the practice – which is deeply rooted in longstanding social norms, misconceptions and harmful gender stereotypes – has continued.
Shadia joined a Plan International Girls’ Club which brings together girls and young women to discuss the negative social norms that affect their lives. The girls learn leadership and advocacy skills to provide them with the confidence to speak out and campaign for change in their communities.
“Plan International spoke to us about the risks and realities of FGM. Now every time we meet a woman that wants her daughter to be cut we tell her that it is wrong and about our own experiences,” explains Shadia.
“Parents take their young girls to a nearby city and come back with horrible stories. Before people take that trip, I invite them to meet at their homes or in the community. I sit with them and raise awareness. I speak to families and communities. I tell them that it is wrong, unlawful and paint a picture about the negative health impacts that young girls will face.”
What are we doing to stop FGM?
Thanks to the support of our community, Plan International is able to support girls and their communities to end FGM by:
- Working with girls and women to make sure they’re aware of the harmful effects of FGM. This not only empowers them to make choices, it also educates the women who carry out the procedure. And because men and boys tend to have greater power and influence in cultures that practice FGM, we also work with them to change their attitudes.
- Increasing legal protection. Part of our work involves engaging with governments and community leaders to encourage them to enact change in laws around FGM that protect young women.
- Supporting the young women and girls driving advocacy against the practice in their own communities.
- Supporting survivors. Those who have been through FGM often need help and support, so we work with local health workers and the wider community to provide psychological support and medical treatment to survivors.
End FGM for future generations
To spare millions of girls from unnecessary and irreversible pain and trauma, we need to act now.
Please donate today so that together with courageous survivors and other community-based anti-FGM campaigners, we can put an end to FGM.
Hawa*, a young woman from Mali, underwent female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) when she was just four years old. Under false pretences, Hawa’s grandmother and aunt took her to a clinic in a rural area of Mali where she was cut by an elderly woman. To this day, she remembers the pain.
Now, Hawa tells her story, in her own words.
- The pain was always there, when I went to the toilet, the pain was there, and I was scared. I had lots of infections and the wound didn’t scar very well. At the time, I thought it was a normal thing. I told myself, if my grandmother took me there, it was normal.
*Name changed to protect identity.