Female genital cutting (FGC), also known as female genital mutilation (FGM), female circumcision, or female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), is any procedure involving the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs "whether for cultural, religious or other non-therapeutic reasons." The term is exclusively used to describe traditional or religious procedures on a minor, which requires the parents' consent because of the age of the girl.
When the procedure is performed on and with the consent of an adult, it is generally called clitoridectomy, or it may be part of labiaplasty or vaginoplasty. It also generally does not refer to procedures used in sex reassignment surgery, and the genital modification of intersexuals.
FGC is predominantly practiced in Northeast Africa and parts of the Near East and Southeast Asia, although it has also been reported to occur in individual tribes in South America and Australia. Opposition is motivated by concerns regarding the consent (or lack thereof, in most cases) of the patient, and subsequently the safety and long-term consequences of the procedures. In the past several decades, there have been many concerted efforts by the World Health Organization (WHO) to end the practice of FGC. The United Nations has also declared February 6 as "International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation".
Different terms are used to describe female genital surgery and other such procedures. The terms female genital mutilation (FGM) and female genital cutting (FGC) are now dominant in the international community. Practitioners commonly prefer the term female circumcision (FC). Groups that oppose the stigma of the word "mutilation" prefer to use the term female genital cutting. A few organizations have started using the combined term female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). All terms are currently still actively used.
The WHO defines Type I FGM as the partial or total removal of the clitoris (clitoridectomy) and/or the prepuce (clitoral hood); see Diagram 1B. When it is important to distinguish between the variations of Type I cutting, the following subdivisions are proposed: Type Ia, removal of the clitoral hood or prepuce only (which some view as analogous to male circumcision and thus more acceptable); Type Ib, removal of the clitoris with the prepuce. In the context of women who seek out labiaplasty, there is disagreement among doctors as to whether to remove the clitoral hood in some cases to enhance sexuality or whether this is too likely to lead to scarring and other problems.
The WHO's definition of Type II FGM is "partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora. When it is important to distinguish between the major variations that have been documented, the following subdivisions are proposed: Type IIa, removal of the labia minora only; Type IIb, partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora; Type IIc, partial or total removal of the clitoris, the labia minora and the labia majora.
The WHO defines Type III FGM as narrowing of the vaginal orifice with creation of a covering seal by cutting and repositioning the labia minora and/or the labia majora, with or without excision of the clitoris (infibulation). "It is the most extensive form of FGM, and accounts for about 10% of all FGM procedures described from Africa.
Infibulation is also known as "pharaonic circumcision".
In a study of infibulation in the Horn of Africa, Pieters observed that the procedure involves extensive tissue removal of the external genitalia, including all of the labia minora and the inside of the labia majora. The labia majora are then held together using thorns or stitching. In some cases the girl's legs have been tied together for two to six weeks, to prevent her from moving and to allow the healing of the two sides of the vulva.
Nothing remains but the walls of flesh from the pubis down to the anus, with the exception of an opening at the inferior portion of the vulva to allow urine and menstrual blood to pass through; see Diagram 1D. Generally, a practitioner recognized as having the necessary skill carries out this procedure, and a local anesthetic is used. However, when carried out "in the bush", infibulation is often performed by an elderly matron or midwife of the village, without sterile procedure or anesthesia.
A reverse infibulation can be performed to allow for sexual intercourse or when undergoing labor, or by female relatives, whose responsibility it is to inspect the wound every few weeks and open it some more if necessary. During childbirth, the enlargement is too small to allow vaginal delivery, and so the infibulation is opened completely and may be restored after delivery. Again, the legs are sometimes tied together to allow the wound to heal. When childbirth takes place in a hospital, the surgeons may preserve the infibulation by enlarging the vagina with deep episiotomies. Afterwards, the patient may insist that her vulva be closed again.
Women who have been infibulated face a lot of difficulty in delivering children, especially if the infibulation is not undone beforehand, which often results in severe tearing of the infibulated area, or fetal death if the birth canal is not cleared (Toubia, 1995). The risk of severe physical, and psychological complications is more highly associated with women who have undergone infibulations as opposed to one of the lesser forms of FGM. Although there is little research on the psychological side effects of FGM, many women feel great pressure to conform to the norms set out by their community, and suffer from anxiety and depression as a result (Toubia, 1995). "There is also a higher rate of post-traumatic stress disorder in circumcised females" (Nicoletti, 2007, p. 2).
A five-year study of 300 women and 100 men in Sudan found that "sexual desire, pleasure, and orgasm are experienced by the majority (nearly 90%) of women who have been subjected to this extreme sexual mutilation, in spite of their being culturally bound to hide these experiences."
There are other forms of FGM, collectively referred to as Type IV, that may not involve tissue removal. The WHO defines Type IV FGM as "all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, for example, pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterization. "This includes a diverse range of practices, such as pricking the clitoris with needles, burning or scarring the genitals as well as ripping or tearing of the vagina. Type IV is found primarily among isolated ethnic groups as well as in combination with other types.
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