On Tuesday, 6th February, the world celebrated the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation. Since its introduction in 2003, the day has focused on not only protecting women’s bodies and physical health, but also their rights.
In a joint statement from the Executive Directors of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), FGM was described as “a violent act”, “a cruel practice”, and “a violation of human rights” that affects many girls from birth to age 15.
What is FGM?
Typically performed without anaesthetic or medical training, FGM comes in three forms; types 1, 2, and 3.
FGM type 1 involves the removal of all or most of the clitoris, while type 2 involves removing both the clitoris and the inner labia. The most severe form of FGM is type 3, which consists of the removal of the clitoris, as well as both the inner and outer labia. FGM also involves either the stapling or sewing together of the vulva leaving a small hole to menstruate and urinate (depending on the type).
Short term effects of FGM include excessive hemorrhaging, abnormal scarring, and urination issues; while the long term effects can include PTSD, obstetric fistula, HIV, and chronic reproductive tract infections. As a result, both female sexual health and psychological wellbeing are compromised by this process.
Who does FGM affect?
FGM traditionally affects women and girls in the world’s most poverty-stricken communities and low-income communities, however stopping the practice is up to political will and community participation.
The statement also detailed that people across 15 different countries have denounced the act since 2008 and that, worldwide, its pervasiveness has dropped by 25% since the turn of the century.
Yet, it also revealed that 200 million women and girls have been subjected to the barbaric practice to date; warning that close to 70 million more girls will fall victim to FGM by 2030.
In order to change the current situation UNICEF and the UNFPA recommend that each community confront the practice, medical professionals refuse to perform the procedure, laws where FGM is banned are enforced, access to education and health are ensured, and that “girls and women are protected and empowered to make their voices heard”.
The Executive Directors declared that the young girls and women who have not fallen victim to FGM are generally healthier than those who have; “they are often better educated, earn higher incomes and are more empowered to make decisions about their own lives.”International Human Rights / Humanitarian Law, Woman International