top of page

Explained: What is Female Genital Mutilation and what are its Socio-cultural Roots?

There are no limits to the insults and exploitations a girl child experiences in her life. When religion, society, and often parents support various kinds of oppression; big walls of injustice arise around her. Female Genital Mutilation exists in different parts of the world is one of these forms of physical oppressions. This cruelty is practiced on very young children, who  don't even know what's being done to them with the support of their parents is an extremely primitive custom. This devilish practice happens all over the world. According to UNICEF, more than 20 crore girls are subjected to FGM every year around the globe. It is in this context that the UN to declared February 6th as the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Genital Mutilation.

Socio-cultural roots of the barbaric custom

 Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a procedure where the female genitals are deliberately cut, injured, or changed, but there's no medical reason for this to be done. It’s also known as female circumcision or cutting, other terms inlude sunna, gudniin, halalays, tahur, megrez and khitan. FGM is usually carried out on young girls, between infancy and the age of 15, most commonly before puberty. The practice of FGM is commonin various communtities in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

The most frequently cited reasons for carrying out FGM inlude social acceptance, religion, misconceptions about hygiene, a means of preserving a girl or woman's virginity, making the woman ‘marriageable’  and enhancing male sexual pleasure. In some cultures, FGM is regarded as a rite of passage into adulthood and is considered a pre-requisite for marriage. Although there are no hygienic advantages or health benefits to FGM, practicing communities believe that women's vaginas need to be cut - thus, women who haven’t undergone FGM are regarded as unhealthy, unclean, or unworthy. Often, it's performed against their will, and health professionals worldwide consider it a form of violence against women and a violation of their human rights. When FGM is inflicted on children, it is also seen as a form of child abuse.  In some communities, it is almost universally performed and unquestioned. It is often considered a necessary part of raising a girl, and a way to prepare her for adulthood and marriage. and is often motivated by beliefs about what is considered acceptable sexual behavior. It aims to ensure premarital virginity and marital fidelity. In many communities, it is believed to reduce a woman's libido and therefore believed to help her resist extramarital sexual acts. When a vaginal opening is covered or narrowed (Type 3), the fear of the pain of opening it, and the fear that this will be found out, is expected to further discourage extramarital sexual intercourse among women with this type of FGM. Where it is believed that being cut increases marriageability, it is more likely to be carried out. It is associated with cultural ideals of femininity and modesty, which include the notion that girls are clean and beautiful after the removal of body parts that are considered unclean, unfeminine, or male. Though no religious scripts prescribe the practice, practitioners often believe the practice has religious support. Religious leaders take varying positions about FGM: some promote it, some consider it irrelevant to religion, and others contribute to its elimination. Local structures of power and authority, such as community leaders, religious leaders, circumcisers, and even some medical personnel can contribute to upholding the practice. Likewise, when informed, they can be effective advocates for their abandonment. In most societies, where it is practiced, it is considered a cultural tradition, which is often used as an argument for its continuation. In some societies, the recent adoption of the practice is linked to copying the traditions of neighboring groups. Sometimes it has started as part of a wider religious or traditional revival movement.

The reasons why female genital mutilations are performed vary from one region to another as well as over time. This includes a mix of sociocultural factors within families and communities. Where FGM is a social convention (social norm), the social pressure to conform to what others do and have been doing, as well as the need to be accepted socially and the fear of being rejected by the community, are strong motivations to perpetuate the practice.

Different forms of FGM

The World Health Organisation (WHO) differentiates between four different types of Female Genital Mutilation. The first type includes excision of the clitoris prepuce (‘Sunna-circumcision’) and the clitoris or parts thereof. The second type includes excision of the clitoris prepuce, the clitoris and the inner lips or parts thereof. Type three consists of excisions of part of or all of the external genitals (‘infibulation’, also referred to as ‘Pharaonic Circumcision’). Afterward, the remaining parts of the outer lips are sewn together leaving a small hole for urine and menstrual flow. The scar needs to be opened before intercourse or giving birth, which causes additional pain. Infibulation is mainly spread in the Horn of Africa and its neighboring areas – in Somalia, Djibouti, and Eritrea, as well as in the northern part of Sudan and the southern part of Egypt. It is the most severe form of FGM. The fourth type includes any other procedure, which injures or circumcises the female genitalia. Pricking, piercing, cutting, or stretching of the clitoris or the labia, also burning or scarring the genitals as well as ripping off the vaginal opening or the introduction of corrosive substances or herbs into the vagina to tighten it.

Aftereffects of FMG

Female genital mutilation has serious health (physical and mental!) effects which often occur immediately after the procedure. Post procedure hazards include severe bleeding, infections, tetanus, paralysis of the bladder or blood poisoning, and can even result in death. HIV/AIDS can also be transmitted via the use of dirty instruments.  In addition to the psychological trauma and the loss of sexual sensation, the victims often complain of long-term pain when urinating and during menstruation. Sitting or even walking can bruise and even re-open the scar tissue due to the constant rubbing of clothing. Cysts, abscesses, bladder infections and incontinence may occur. Infertility is one of the possible long-term consequences. Sexual intercourse is often painful. Giving birth to a child can increase bleeding and tissue cracks. The birth may take longer than usual and cesarean sections are common.

Zero Tolerance of FGM

To promote the elimination of female genital mutilation, coordinated and systematic efforts are needed, and they must engage whole communities and focus on human rights, gender equality, sexual education, and attention to the needs of women and girls who suffer from its consequences. In 2012, the UN General Assembly designated February 6th as the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, to amplify and direct the efforts on the elimination of this practice. Many governments have taken important steps to stamp it out. At least 59 countries have passed laws against FGM, including 26 of the 29 African countries where FGM is most concentrated. However, several states where the practice is rampant, still lack legislation. Even in places where the practice has been outlawed, enforcement is weak and prosecutions are rare.Furthermore, in the countries where it is most prevalent, populations are growing–and along with them so is the number of girls at risk.

There is also concerning evidence that in some countries, girls are undergoing FGM at a even younger age than before, and that medicalization of the practice is on the rise. Trained health-care personnel have carried out more FGM operations in recent years. This normalises the practice and hinders long-term efforts to eliminate it. While undeniable progress has been made, rates aren’t declining fast enough. An estimated 68 million girls are at risk of being mutilated by 2030.

Awareness and advocacy start with you. Speak out using #endFGM on social media to make it known we must end this harmful practice.


By Devadeth K Reji

Devadath is a student of political science and a member of The Symposium society. Besides having a keen interest in everything political and the domestic affairs, he is fond of books and a cinephile. He loves interactions with anyone comes across him. He wants to spare his career for the welfare of society.

188 views0 comments


bottom of page