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Key facts

  • Female genital mutilation (FGM) includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
  • The procedure has no health benefits for girls and women.
  • Procedures can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, infertility as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths.
  • More than 125 million girls and women alive today have been cut in the 29 countries in Africa and Middle East where FGM is concentrated.
  • FGM is mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and age 15.
  • FGM is a violation of the human rights of girls and women. 

Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

The practice is mostly carried out by traditional circumcisers, who often play other central roles in communities, such as attending childbirths. However, more than 18% of all FGM is performed by health care providers, and the trend towards medicalization is increasing.

FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children. The practice also violates a person's rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.

Procedures

Female genital mutilation is classified into four major types:

  • Clitoridectomy: partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals) and, in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).
  • Excision: partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (the labia are "the lips" that surround the vagina).
  • Infibulation: narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the inner, or outer, labia, with or without removal of the clitoris.
  • Other: all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.

No health benefits, only harm

FGM has no health benefits, and it harms girls and women in many ways. It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and interferes with the natural functions of girls' and women's bodies.

Immediate complications can include severe pain, shock, haemorrhage (bleeding), tetanus or sepsis (bacterial infection), urine retention, open sores in the genital region and injury to nearby genital tissue.

Long-term consequences can include:

  • recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections;
  • cysts;
  • infertility;
  • an increased risk of childbirth complications and newborn deaths;
  • the need for later surgeries. For example, the FGM procedure that seals or narrows a vaginal opening (type 3 above) needs to be cut open later to allow for sexual intercourse and childbirth. Sometimes it is stitched again several times, including after childbirth, hence the woman goes through repeated opening and closing procedures, further increasing and repeated both immediate and long-term risks.

Who is at risk?

Procedures are mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and age 15, and occasionally on adult women. In Africa, more than three million girls have been estimated to be at risk for FGM annually.

More than 125 million girls and women alive today have been cut in the 29 countries in Africa and Middle East where FGM is concentrated (1).

The practice is most common in the western, eastern, and north-eastern regions of Africa, in some countries in Asia and the Middle East, and among migrants from these areas.

Cultural, religious and social causes

The causes of female genital mutilation include a mix of cultural, religious and social factors within families and communities.

  • Where FGM is a social convention, the social pressure to conform to what others do and have been doing is a strong motivation to perpetuate the practice.
  • FGM is often considered a necessary part of raising a girl properly, and a way to prepare her for adulthood and marriage.
  • FGM is often motivated by beliefs about what is considered proper sexual behaviour, linking procedures to premarital virginity and marital fidelity. FGM is in many communities believed to reduce a woman's libido and therefore believed to help her resist "illicit" sexual acts. When a vaginal opening is covered or narrowed (type 3 above), the fear of the pain of opening it, and the fear that this will be found out, is expected to further discourage "illicit" sexual intercourse among women with this type of FGM.
  • FGM is associated with cultural ideals of femininity and modesty, which include the notion that girls are “clean” and "beautiful" after removal of body parts that are considered "male" or "unclean".
  • Though no religious scripts prescribe the practice, practitioners often believe the practice has religious support.
  • Religious leaders take varying positions with regard to 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.
  • In most societies, FGM is considered a cultural tradition, which is often used as an argument for its continuation.
  • In some societies, recent adoption of the practice is linked to copying the traditions of neighbouring groups. Sometimes it has started as part of a wider religious or traditional revival movement.
  • In some societies, FGM is practised by new groups when they move into areas where the local population practice FGM.

International response

In December 2012, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on the elimination of female genital mutilation.

In 2010 WHO published a "Global strategy to stop health care providers from performing female genital mutilation" in collaboration with other key UN agencies and international organizations.

In 2008 WHO together with 9 other United Nations partners, issued a new statement on the elimination of FGM to support increased advocacy for the abandonment of FGM. The 2008 statement provides evidence collected over the past decade about the practice. It highlights the increased recognition of the human rights and legal dimensions of the problem and provides data on the frequency and scope of FGM. It also summarizes research about on why FGM continues, how to stop it, and its damaging effects on the health of women, girls and newborn babies.

The new statement builds on the original from 1997 that WHO issued together with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

Since 1997, great efforts have been made to counteract FGM, through research, work within communities, and changes in public policy. Progress at both international and local levels includes:

  • wider international involvement to stop FGM;
  • international monitoring bodies and resolutions that condemn the practice;
  • revised legal frameworks and growing political support to end FGM (this includes a law against FGM in 24 African countries, and in several states in two other countries, as well as 12 industrialized countries with migrant populations from FGM practicing countries);
  • in most countries, the prevalence of FGM has decreased, and an increasing number of women and men in practising communities support ending its practice.

Research shows that, if practicing communities themselves decide to abandon FGM, the practice can be eliminated very rapidly.

FGM in Egypt

The practice of FGM/C is Egypt is quite prevalent. However, recent evidence has shown that the practice is declining among girls and women of younger age. The recent 2008 Demographic Health Survey in Egypt (EDHS) reported that the FGM/C prevalence rate among women from ages 15-49 is 91.1 percent, but 74 percent among girls age 15-17. The recent report indicated that a decline is expected over the next fifteen years among girls age 15-17, reaching a level of 45 percent.

In 2006, another representative study was conducted by the Ministry of Health (MoH) among school girls aged 10-18 in 10 selected governorates measuring the prevalence of FGM/C among them. The study concluded that 50 percent of the girls are circumcised and that the percentage of circumcision is higher among the daughters of non-educated mothers (64.7 percent) as opposed to the daughters of women who attended university (22.3 percent).

The 2008 EDHS has also shown that a mother’s level of education, residency and economic status are important variables. For example, urban women are less likely to be circumcised than rural women (EDHS, 2000, 2005 & 2008). The likelihood of circumcision drops by education level and wealth quintile. The 2008 EDHS reports that 31 percent of girls in the highest wealth quintile are expected to be circumcised by the age of 18 compared with 73 percent of girls in the lowest wealth quintile.

In June of 2008, the Egyptian Parliament agreed to criminalize FGM/C in the Penal Code, establishing a minimum custodial sentence of three months and a maximum of two years, or an alternative minimum penalty of 1,000 Egyptian pounds (LE) and a maximum of 5,000 LE.

Also, the new Child Law included the formation of Child Protection Committees (CPC) at different national levels with duties to identify, support and monitor children at risk of neglect and abuse, including girls at risk of circumcision.

Furthermore, to assist in the enforcement of legislation, Egypt hosted in 2008 a regional meeting entitled 'Cairo Declaration+5'. This conference is a follow-up to the 2003 meeting that also took place in Cairo and resulted in an important legal document on FGM/C titled 'The Cairo Declaration for the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation'. The main objectives of the conference were to follow up on the recommendations of the pervious conference and to launch an international campaign aimed at rekindling world-wide attention on FGM/C.

The Egyptian Ministry of Health (MoH) issued in 2007 a ministerial decree (271) closing a loophole in the previous 1996 decree by banning everyone, including health professionals, from performing FGM/C in governmental or non-governmental hospitals/clinics.

In 2007, Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa’s issued a 'Fatwa' condemning FGM/C and the Azhar Supreme Council for Islamic Research issued a statement explaining that FGM/C has no basis in the core Islamic Sharia or any of its partial provisions.

In September 2012, Egyptian gynecologists & obstetricians union launched a statement declaring that FGM/C is not a medical procedure & is not included in any medical curriculum else as a practice that should be prevented consequently law doesn’t offer protection to physicians who practice it.

The statement also emphasized on the fact that there is no medical indication, health or behavioral benefits of it, on the contrary it leads to psychological & reproductive complications for women on the long run which might stay lifelong with them in addition to the medical complications that might happen during it’s practice.

Fourteenth of June is the national Zero FGM tolerance day commemorating Bedour Ahmed Shaker from Maghagha in Menya governorate who died due to FGM on the hands of a physician, Thousands of girls are still affected by what killed Bedour.

Sohair Elbatee is another girl who died of FGM in June 2013 in Aga Dakahlya, Her case has been reopened & the general Attorney transferred the Charged Father & Physician to the criminal court as the first case of prosecution on FGM.   

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