FGM stands for Female Genital Mutilation. It is sometimes called female circumcision, cutting or sunna. This is the partial or complete removal of a girl's external genitals (private parts). Sometimes the vagina is also sewn up too. FGM is a tradition practiced on girls in 28 African countries and parts of the Middle East, Asia and Latin America.
There are 4 types of FGM:
- Type 1 – Clitoridectomy – removing part or all of the clitoris.
- Type 2 – Excision – removing part or all of the clitoris and the inner labia (lips that surround the vagina), with or without removal of the labia majora (larger outer lips).
- Type 3 – Infibulation – narrowing of the vaginal opening by creating a seal, formed by cutting and repositioning the labia.
- Other harmful procedures to the female genitals, which include pricking, piercing, cutting, scraping and burning
FGM has no known health benefits and can be extremely dangerous; sometimes leading to death. Religious, social or cultural reasons are sometimes given however FGM is illegal in the UK – it’s also illegal to arrange for someone to be taken out of the country to be cut.
The immediate effects and risks of FGM are:
- Severe pain
- Wound infections, including tetanus and gangrene, as well as blood-borne viruses such as HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C
- Inability to urinate
- Injury to vulval tissues surrounding the entrance to the vagina
- Damage to other organs nearby, such as the urethra (where urine passes) and the bowel
- FGM can sometimes cause death.
The long term effects and risks of FGM are:
- Chronic vaginal and pelvic infections
- Abnormal periods
- Difficulty passing urine, and persistent urine infections
- Kidney impairment and possible kidney failure
- Damage to the reproductive system, including infertility
- Cysts and the formation of scar tissue
- Complications in pregnancy and newborn deaths
- Pain during sex and lack of pleasurable sensation
- Psychological damage, including low libido, depression and anxiety (see below)
- Flashbacks during pregnancy and childbirth
- The need for later surgery to open the lower vagina for sexual intercourse and childbirth
Those most at risk of FGM are girls between infancy and the age of 15 – majority of cases occur between the ages of 5 and 8.
If you are worried someone you know may be at risk of FGM, or has already gone through FGM and may need some support; these are the things to look out for!
- Someone absent from school for a long period of time, usually either side of the school holidays, with no reason/ you are going to another country for a long period of time and are unsure why
- If a mother/family member has already gone through FGM – as this means someone in the family believes in FGM
- If a family belongs to a community where FGM is practiced
- If someone is talking about having a ‘special procedure’ or ‘becoming a woman’
- Continued prolonged absence from school or other physical activities
- Someone returns from a long stay away and their behaviour has changed
- Bladder or menstrual (period) problems – like needing to go the toilet a lot or spending a long time in the toilet
- Having difficulty sitting still, or complaining about a pain between their legs
- Someone talking about something somebody did but they are not allowed to talk about
Who can help?
If you are worried about FGM happening to you or a friend, or have gone through FGM and feel you need support, here are some people and places you can go for support:
- Speak to a SaFE Worker, a teacher, tutor, or adult outside of your family that you trust
- Speak to the school nurse
- Go to the Help Page on this website for Childline numbers
SOME OTHER THINGS YOU MIGHT WANT TO CHECK OUT
Daughter’s of Eve is a great charity set up to support young girls experiencing or at risk of FGM: