Thanks to the recent Girl Summit in London the topic of female genital mutilation (FGM) has received more attention in the mainstream media than ever before and rightly so. The figures alone should be enough to make people sit up and take notice, with an estimated 3 million women and girls at risk of FGM every year.
Female circumcision is a direct violation of human rights. It is a violent method of control that disempowers women and can lead to lifelong problems, both physical and mental.
The Physical Effects of FGM
As with any assault, FGM carries with it several physical impacts, all of which are harmful to a girl’s health.
Increased Rates Of Infection. Because FGM is usually carried out by people with no medical training in non-clinical settings, rates of infection from the procedure are high. Girls are often cut with old knives, scissors and even razor blades which are rarely clean and so rates of infection from tetanus and HIV are elevated. Throughout their lives they will also be more likely to suffer from uterine, vaginal and pelvis infections.
Higher Rate Of Infertility. Women who have undergone FGM often experience stagnation of menstrual blood and other vaginal secretions which causes inflammation of the pelvis and infections. These can in turn affect the womb leading to infertility.
Higher Rate Of Maternal And Child Mortality. Due to the damage wrought on the reproductive system girls and women who have undergone FGM are twice as likely to die in childbirth. The risk of giving birth to a stillborn baby is also elevated due to obstructed labour.
Chance Of Death. At the most extreme end of the physical effects is the chance of death either during or shortly after the procedure. FGM carries a risk of haemorrhaging due to poorly performed incisions which can lead to death. The chance of dying from tetanus infection in the weeks afterwards is also raised.
The Emotional And Mental Effects of FGM
As you would expect following such a traumatic and painful event the problems extend beyond the physical. The mental effects reverberate throughout a girls’ life.
Increased Incidence Of Mental Disorders. According to one recent study, girls who have undergone FGM are more likely to suffer from mental disorders.1 In the study 46% of girls had symptoms indicating anxiety disorders.
Post-Traumatic Stress. The same study also revealed that girls who have undergone FGM exhibit a higher prevalence of post-traumatic stress. 74% reported suffering from distressing re-experiences of their circumcision.
Lower Self-Esteem. Girls who undergo FGM have lower self-esteem than uncut girls in their age group. They often suffer from depression too.
FGM is a damaging procedure that causes untold physical and emotional damage as well as reinforces the second-class status of women in the cultures that practise it. It’s a global problem and one that doesn’t have an easy solution, but by working together we can end FGM within a generation and save millions of girls and women from the trauma and distress it wreaks.
To find out more about how you can help with FGM, please visit Plan UK
This is a promotional post with images from the DFID – UK Department for International Development.