Female genital mutilation (FGM) involves partially removing the external genitalia of girls and young women for non-medical reasons. It has no health benefits, causes physical and emotional trauma, and commonly leads to infection, infertility and even death.
Cutting is common in many cultures due to a belief that it is required to achieve a marriage match. Girls who don’t undergo the procedure might be thought of as promiscuous. The belief that FGM equates to purity, cleanliness and strong morals is a reason why the practice continues.
FGM is a traditional practice that has become ingrained in communities over the generations, making it very difficult for girls, boys, mothers and fathers to challenge these traditions. We are working to end FGM, as a violation of human rights that enforces gender inequality.
Generations of change in Mali
In one village in Mali, ideas surrounding FGM are changing – and it’s mothers and grandmothers, like Sanaba and Fatoumata, who are ending the silence surrounding the practice.
The impact of FGM
The damage that FGM inflicts can be life-threatening as well as psychologically traumatic. The impact of FGM includes:
- The risk of infection or death. Deaths from FGM do happen, usually as a result of haemorrhaging during or immediately after the procedure or due to tetanus and other infections in the weeks following. The majority of procedures are carried out by untrained women, in non-sterile settings using implements such as scissors, razor blades and even broken glass. This means that girls will typically suffer from painful infections.
- Increased chance of complications during childbirth. The damage wreaked on the female reproductive system means that women who have undergone FGM are twice as likely to die in childbirth. They are also more likely to give birth to a stillborn baby.
- Lifetime susceptibility to infection. Survivors of FGM are more likely to suffer from recurrent uterine, vaginal and pelvic infections throughout their life.
- Sexual dysfunction. Due to the trauma inflicted on their genitals, women who have been subjected to FGM typically experience pain during sex and physiological problems with sex.
- Psychological damage. Women who have undergone FGM can be affected by a wide range of psychological problems. One study revealed that 46% of girls who are cut develop an anxiety disorder. In another, 78% reported feelings of intense fear and horror that plagued them long after the event.
Our Work to End FGM
We’re working with young people and their communities to end FGM by:
- Educating women and communities: we need to make girls and women aware of the harmful effects of FGM. This not only empowers women to make choices, it also educates the women who carry out the procedure. Because men and boys tend to have greater power and influence in cultures that practice cutting, we also work to change their attitudes.
- Increasing legal protection: part of our work involves working with governments and community leaders to put in place legal restrictions and make sure they’re enforced.
- Supporting victims: those who have suffered FGM need help and support, so we work with local health workers and the wider community to provide psychological and medical support to survivors.
The Uncut Girls' Club
Our work focuses on helping young people take a leading role in the global campaign to end FGM. It is their generation that can break the cycle. Meet the girls in Ethiopia who are fighting to end FGM in a generation with the Uncut Girls’ Club.
MEET MARGRET AND BEATRICE
In Tanzania, 15% of girls and women aged 15 to 49 have undergone FGM. Through training with Plan International, brave girls like Margaret and Beatrice, who have both experienced FGM, are learning new skills and rebuilding their lives – and making change happen for the next generation.
FGM in the UK
While the majority of cases occur in Africa, FGM isn't just a problem overseas: the issue is a global one. In the UK, the practice is illegal – but girls remain at risk, and FGM continues to be a hidden but growing problem.
STOPPING ‘CUTTING SEASON’ IN THE UK
FGM is a big problem in the UK during the summer holidays – a time referred to as ‘cutting season’. Girls are flown abroad, often under the pretence of a holiday to visit relatives. On arrival, they are subjected to FGM, sometimes at the hands of someone with no medical training, with non-sterile instruments including razor blades, scissors or shards of glass. This blog explains three things you can do to help stop FGM and cutting season.
Are You at Risk of FGM?
If you think you’re in immediate danger of being cut or of being taken abroad to undergo FGM you can call the police (dial 999). If you’re concerned that a child's welfare is at risk because of FGM, call the NSPCC’s free helpline on 0800 028 3550. The helpline offers advice, information, and support. Though callers can choose to remain anonymous, any information that could protect a child at serious risk may be passed to the police or social services.
An infographic that looks at the main reasons why FGM happens.
Discover four projects in Africa that are engaging and empowering communities to end FGM.
For thousands of girls in the UK the summer holidays mark the arrival of ‘cutting season'.
Three things you can do to help bring ‘cutting season’ and FGM to an end.