Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is composed of any process and procedure whereby all or part of the female genitalia or other female genital organs are removed for non-medical reasons. FGM is an extreme form of discrimination, violence, torture against women and girls. It is a grotesque violation of their basic human rights. FGM is also commonly labelled as Female Genital Cutting (FGC), Female Circumcision (FC) or excision. No matter the name, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICF) joint programme to eliminate FGM, estimates that over 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone some form of FGM. See Accelerating Change: By the Number, 2016 Annual Report of the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting, 2017.

In 1997 World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) & United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) defined FGM as all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female organs for cultural or other non-medical reasons.  In 2007, these organizations classified FGM into four categories:

  1. Clitoridectomy – removing part or all of the clitoris and/or the prepuce.
  2. Excision – removing part or all of the clitoris and the inner labia, with or without removal of the labia majora.
  3. Infibulation – narrowing of the vagina opening by creating a seal, formed by cutting and repositioning the labia minora and/or majora.
  4. Pricking, piercing, cutting, scraping, cauterization/ burning the area of the clitoris.

There is no health benefit for girls or women. FGM is carried out against the will and permission of women and girls because of deeply entrenched beliefs and customs amongst certain communities worldwide. The most prevalent of these beliefs are tied to a variety of socio-cultural, aesthetic and economic reasons. FGM is a way to insure virginity before marriage, fidelity after marriage and to increase the male’s sexual pleasure. FGM is the physical manifestation of girl’s coming of age and readiness for childbirth. It also seen as a solution to the belief that an uncut clitoris grows into a penis. Some communities also view FGM as a way to promote cleanliness of the female genitalia. FGM is also used a method to determine a woman’s eligibility for marriage and her right to inherit. Further, it is a reliable source of income for practitioners of FGM who can be barbers, herbalist/medicine men or women, members of secret societies and sometimes even a trained health care provider. See Global Strategy to Stop Health-Care Providers from Performing FGM released by WHO in 2010.

There are numerous international Treaties and laws that provides protections against FGM; one of the most notable being The Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was adopted by the United Nations (UN) on 12/10/1948. This Declaration was adopted by the UN on 12/10/1948. Further, the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees classifies women fleeing the threat of FGM as eligible for refugee status. A well-founded fear of FGM can act as a basis for a successful claim for political asylum. Typically an FGM claim falls under the enumerated ground of ‘membership in a particular social group” i.e. you are a female that belongs to a particular social group and that ethnic group practices FGM.

The Unites States considers FGM to be a serious human rights abuse, gender-based violence and a form of child abuse when done to a child. Women and children subjected to FGM are also part of the “Me too” movement and deserve proactive attention and action too.

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