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Female Genital Mutilation in African Countries: The Harmful Traditional Practice



Female Genital Mutilation Stats

Female genital mutilation has been around for 2,000+ years. Some African communities perform the practice to uphold tradition and religious values, prepare girls for womanhood, meet family expectations, preserve virginity and purity and even for social & community acceptance.

Just recently, a group of Kenyan doctors moved to the court, wanting the FGM ban lifted, terming it as unconstitutional. They argued that it’s discriminatory to stop women from undergoing circumcision, yet men are allowed to.

“Banning the FGM practice is as good as embracing the Western culture and viewing the local traditions as inferior,” said Dr. Kamau, who has been practicing medicine for about three decades. “All citizens have freedom from discrimination and the right to equality. The Act doesn’t give a chance to the females who wish to undergo the cut even to maintain their culture and beliefs,” she concluded.

This leads us to the question, why are communities still practicing female genital mutilation?

As it is, the reasons for FGM vary from one community to the next. The most commonly cited include:

  • It’s association with cultural ideals of modesty and femininity – the idea that girls are beautiful and clean following the removal of body parts that are believed to be male-like, or unclean
  • The rite of passage from girlhood to womanhood – as preparation for marriage
  • It’s seen as a way to uphold virginity, and marital fidelity – the cutting of clitoris minimizes the libido, and can, therefore, aids the woman in resisting sexual advancements.
  • Social norm – girls are forced to conform to the pressure since everyone around them is doing so. They do this for fear of rejection.
  • Family expectations and upholding family honor.

The World Health Organization identifies four types of Female Genital Mutilation.

  1. Infibulation: Involves stitching of the vaginal opening, without cutting the clitoris, to prevent sexual intercourse.
  2. Excision: Is where the clitoris and the labia minora and the labia majora are partially or entirely removed.
  3. Clitoridectomy: Is the partial or total removal of the clitoris. In rare circumstances, they remove the prepuce.
  4. Other harmful processes: Refers to all other procedures that cause harm to female genitals for non-medical reasons. This includes incising, pricking, cauterizing and scraping.

If you thought female genital mutilation was a tradition of the past, well, you are wrong. Many girls in Africa are subject to genital mutilation.

According to statistics, over 200 million females are affected by FGM, while three million girls face the risk of going through the painful procedure each year. The practice is prominent in 30 countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.



Health Risks of FGM

Girls and women who undergo FGM are exposed to both short and long-term health risks. Organizations like WHO, UNFPA and World Vision oppose to all forms of FGM, regardless of who executes the practice.

Short-term risks

  • Swelling of the genitals due to local infections or inflammatory response
  • Bleeding due to accidental cutting to the clitoral artery
  • HIV through sharing of the same unsterilized surgical instruments
  • The shock from bleeding, infection or pain
  • Problems passing urine as a result of injury or discomfort to the urethra or tissue swelling
  • Psychological consequences of the trauma, pain and physical force
  • Some cases of bleeding, tetanus that cause shock can result in death

Long-term risks

  • Pain from tissue damage and scarring which cause unprotected or trapped nerve endings
  • Infections including chronic tract infections, chronic genital diseases, and urinary tract infections
  • Obstetric complications –the practice is associated with painful labor, post-partum hemorrhage, the risk of C-section, prolonged labor, instrumental delivery, recourse to episiotomy, obstetric lacerations and more.
  • Painful urination from recurrent UTIs and urethral obstruction
  • Keloids
  • Menstrual problems
  • Perinatal risks
  • Obstetric fistula
  • Sexual problems like decreased sexual pleasure and desire, lubrication, and penetration.

What can you do to end FGM?

Heard of the cliché “change begins with you?” There’s a lot you can add to the fight against this harmful practice. Start by talking to your family, friends, and colleagues. Tell everyone who cares to listen and insight that urgent actions must be taken.

The practicing communities have complex reasons for doing so. Shouting “It’s wrong, it’s wrong,” won’t cut it. You can take part in community outreach or support the people who do that so that these groups are sensitized on the dangers associated with FGM.

This article was written by Olivia Kibaba of She is passionate about the rights of women and children in Africa, and around the globe.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Albert Simiyu

    March 22, 2018 at 5:06 pm

    Meaningless and outdated practices like this should have no space or acceptance in our time. The world should speak as one and save the girl child from a practice entirely perpetuated by an irrational and amorphous body of beliefs. So many girls have lost their only chance to reach their full potential owing to this harmful practice. It’s indeed chilling to know the deeper horrors of FGM through such an graphic narration. Hope someone else is reading this. Thanks Olivia

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