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Female genital mutilation – FGM, sometimes called female genital cutting or “circumcission” – refers to a number of practices, most of which involve cutting away part or all of the external female genitalia. The practice ranges from a symbolic nick, to the removal of all or part of a girl’s clitoris, to infibulation (sewing up the labia). It is a violation of the human rights of girls and women, particularly because it causes severe pain and has both immediate and long-term health consequences, not to mention the effect on female sexuality.
Though the practice can vary, “procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons” are defined as FGM according to the World Health Organization.
It’s a serious criminal offence in many, mostly Western countries. FGM is not prescribed by Islam or the Bible. It predates Islam and is practised across religions. It’s more a cultural than a religious practice.
FGM is usually carried out by elderly people in the community (usually, but not exclusively, women) who have been specially designated for this task, or by traditional birth attendants. These people receive a fee from the girls’ family members, in money or in kind. In some cases, medical personnel perform the operation as well, for a fee. Among certain populations, FGM may be carried out by traditional health practitioners, (male) barbers, members of secret societies, herbalists, and sometimes by a female relative. (source)
An estimated 100 to 140 million women and girls alive today are affected by FGM. At least 3 million girls are at risk of undergoing the practice every year. Most girls undergo FGM when they are between 7 and 10 years old, although it is practiced in some cultures as early as a few days after birth or as late as just prior to marriage.
Unicef estimates that more than 125 million girls and women have undergone the practice and that 30 million girls are at risk of it over the coming decade. In addition to Egypt, where 91 percent of women 15 to 49 have undergone the practice, countries with the highest percentages of women who have been cut include Somalia, at 98 percent; Guinea, at 96 percent; Djibouti, at 93 percent; Eritrea and Mali, at 89 percent; and Sierra Leone and Sudan, at 88 percent.
168,000 girls and women living in the United States have already undergone, or are at risk of undergoing FGM. In the UK, it is estimated that 66,000 women and girls have undergone, and 24,000 girls under the age of 11 are at risk of undergoing FGM. In the Gambia, 78.3 percent of women have undergone FGM. In Somalia the prevalence of FGM is almost universal: 98 percent (source).
There are an estimated 30 countries where FGM is traditional practice, and members of communities from those countries that have emigrated practice it in their new homelands.
The practice is common in many parts of Africa (in at least 28 African countries), as well as in some Asian and Arab Countries. Certain immigrant communities in Europe, Australia, Canada and the United States also engage in it. Countries have tried to ban the practice, with mixed success:
The following map shows the percentages of girls and women aged 15–49 who have experienced FGM in some countries in Africa:
Here’s a more up-to-date map:
Teenage girls are now less likely to have been cut than older women in more than half of the 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where the practice is concentrated. In Egypt, for example, where more women have been cut than in any other nation, survey data showed that 81 percent of 15- to 19-year-olds had undergone the practice, compared with 96 percent of women in their late 40s. Only a third of teenage Egyptian girls who were surveyed thought it should continue, compared with almost two-thirds of older women (source).
Another example: FGM is legal in the Gambia, and UNICEF estimates that nearly 4/5 of the female population are subjected to it.
There is some progress in the sense that rates are coming down:
Also the fact that younger women are less likely to have experienced FGM shows that the practice is becoming slowly less common:
The good news is that the practice is more widespread than it is popular, giving some hope that it will decline even more in the future;