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Road sign near Kapchorwa, Uganda, where FGM is outlawed but still practised by the Pokot, Sabiny and Tepeth people. (Wiki)

By Nangayi Guyson

Mbarara, Uganda- On 6 February 2014, Uganda and other African countries joined the world to commemorate the international day that aims at eliminating Female genital mutilation (FGM). The practice which is commonly carried out in the western, eastern, and north-eastern regions of Africa, and also in some countries in Asia and the Middle East, and among migrants from these areas. It is sometimes done on young girls between infancy and age 15, and occasionally on adult women.

According to the facts collected by The World Health organization (WHO), 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.

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

WHO in 2010, 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.

UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin said in a statement to mark the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation that “It is unacceptable that these human rights violations continue to threaten the lives and futures of so many women and girls”

“It is an affront to their human dignity, an assault on their health and an impediment to the well-being of their families, communities and countries. Human development cannot be fully achieved as long as women and girls continue to suffer from this human rights violation or live in fear of it,” he stated.

Ambassador of France in Uganda, Aline Kuster-Ménager,  also said “Eliminating FGM/C requires the efforts and the commitment of a wide range of stakeholders. Besides communities, political leaders have a central role to play in disseminating strong messages on the abandonment of FGM/C and advocating for a better integration of FGM/C issues in policies, both at national and international level,” he said.

What is done FGM?

Female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as female genital cutting and female circumcision, is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “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.

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How is it done and why?

–          How

Female genital mutilation (FGM) procedures are generally performed by a traditional circumciser usually an older woman who also acts as the local midwife and it is classified into four major types.

  • Clitoridectomy which is 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 which is also 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).
  • Infibulations:  the 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.

Others are pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area. These produces are often conducted inside the girl’s family home. They may also be performed by the local male barber, who assumes the role of health worker in some areas.Medical personnel are usually not involved, although a large percentage of FGM procedures in Egypt, Sudan and Kenya are carried out by health professionals, and in Egypt most are performed by physicians, often in people’s homes.

When traditional circumcisers are involved, non-sterile cutting devices are likely to be used, including knives, razors, scissors, cut glass, sharpened rocks and fingernails. Cauterization is used in parts of Ethiopia. The age at which FGM is performed depends on the country; it ranges from shortly after birth to the teenage years.

–          Why

The reasons why FGM is done vary and are based on a mix of cultural, religious and social factors within families and communities. It is asocial convention; the social pressure to conform to what others do and have been doing is a strong motivation to perpetuate the practice. It is also often motivated by beliefs about what is considered proper sexual behaviour, linking procedures to premarital virginity and marital fidelity.

In Kapchuwara district in eastern Uganda for example, FGM is in 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, 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 also 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”.

How risky and dangerous is it?

WHO, explains that FGM has no health benefits but only 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, hemorrhage (bleeding), tetanus or sepsis (bacterial infection), urine retention, open sores in the genital region and injury to nearby genital tissue.

It can also lead to long-term consequences like, recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections, cysts, infertility, an increased risk of childbirth complications and newborn deaths, and the need for later surgeries. For example, the FGM procedure that seals or narrows a vaginal opening 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.

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