by Ruth Akinradewo

Female genital mutilation, commonly referred to as FGM, is an inhuman and gender-specific abuse. It is a procedure whereby female genitalia is deliberately cut, injured, or changed and is sometimes referred to as female circumcision, which is a misnomer as it is quite different from male circumcision being that there are no health benefits.

On the contrary, it births suffering in every possible sphere of the girl’s life from the moment it is undergone, right through into the late stages of adulthood.

The three main types of FGM are:

The first type (clitoridectomy) is the removal of all or part of the clitoris. The clitoris is part of the vulva, which are the external parts of female genitalia. The clitoris is the primary source of female sexual enjoyment, due to its high concentration of nerve endings. The removal of this organ rules out any possible pleasure of sex in the future, but despite how shocking this practice is, type 1 is considered the least invasive of all FGM categories.

Type 2 is excision: the removal of all or part of the clitoris and the inner labia, with or without removal of the outer labia. The labia are the “lips” that protectively surround the vagina. These organs are made of distinct layers of tissue. The labia majora (larger outer lips) are sensitive to sexual stimulation. The inner lips (labia minora) contain sweat glands. When a girl’s labia are removed, she loses all of these functions.

Type 3 is known as ‘infibulation,’ is the most harrowing of all forms of FGM. It involves narrowing the vaginal opening by creating a seal, effected by cutting and repositioning the labia. In this procedure, the girl loses most of the tissue in her vaginal area. FGM also covers other noxious mutilation to the female genitals, including piercing, scraping and burning.

FGM is also associated with excessive bleeding, septic shock, difficulty in passing urine and menstrual blood, infertility, and in worse cases, death. HIV is reportedly related to FGM, as practitioners commonly use the same, unsterilised tool on dozens of girls. Women will also experience trauma reliving the time they were held down and had a sharp rock, or other pointed object shoved into their most private area, often with no anesthesia.

The continents which have the highest instances of FGM are Africa and Asia with the country of Somalia, displaying 98% of girls and women undergoing FGM. Other countries with high percentages of FGM are; Egypt, Sierra Leone, Yemen, and Indonesia.

Internationally, FGM is carried out by traditional community figures, such as herbalists, and are often women. These women will have had the practice performed on them, and in turn, want to ensure that girls of today are subject to it – as a rite of passage.

The key belief underpinning FGM is that a women’s sexuality must be regulated, and a woman is seen as promiscuous if she can feel sexual pleasure. Her right to enjoy sex is not taken into consideration – instead, it belongs to the man, and instead of experiencing sexual excitement on her wedding night, a woman who has undergone FGM will experience extreme pain. It is also common for a woman’s husband to “open” her up with a knife, as the passage in her vagina has been made so minuscule from FGM.

Similarly, women will often have to be “opened up” before pregnancy, and Mothers force the horrific practice upon their daughters for fear of the shame that will enshroud them.

Another tradition that can happen just before the wedding night is that the woman will be brought to her future in-laws and inspected to ensure that her vagina has been satisfactorily cut.

However it’s not just abroad where FGM takes place, estimates put the figure on affected UK women and girls as being up to 100,000 and in 2012, a Sunday Times investigation secretly filmed three men — a doctor, a dentist, and an alternative medicine practitioner — offering to mutilate girls as young as ten, or to arrange the attack. The UK did criminalise FGM in 1985, yet the first conviction for this violence was this year (2019). The victim was three years old.

FGM is child abuse and makes for uncomfortable reading, but I want you to sit for a moment and take in that this is a high reality for people across the world who happen to be born with a vagina. We do them a disservice by choosing to cover our ears or squeeze our eyes shut, and according to the World Health Organisation, FGM happens to more than 200 million girls and women alive today and mostly between the age of two and fifteen – a shocking statistic.

Let’s turn the silence off.