Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting comprises all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other forms of injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons (WHO, 2008), expanding to be a well-known transnational public health, human rights and gender injustice suffered by more than 125 million girls and women in 29 countries of Africa and the Middle East (UNICEF, 2015). It has also shown the prevalence in parts of Asia and migrant communities in Europe, the USA, Australia and New Zealand. This procedure has no health benefit but rather exposes the girl child or woman to health issues varying from problems urinating, severe bleeding, infections, complications in childbirth and risk of newborn deaths.
Female Genital Mutilation can be classified into four major types:
Type 1; This involves partial or complete removal of the clitoral glans (the external and visible part of the clitoris, which is the sensitive part of the female genitals) and/or prepuce clitoral hood (folding the skin surrounding the clitoral glans).
Type 2; This is the partial or complete removal of the clitoral glans and the labia minora (the inner folds of the vulva) with or without removal of the labia majora (the outer folds of skin of the vulva).
Type 3; This can also be called infibulation, it is the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. This seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the labia minora or labia majora, sometimes done through stitching with or without removal of the clitoral prepuce/clitoral hood and glans.
Type 4; This involves all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes (pricking, piercing, scraping, incising and cauterizing the genital area).
According to research conducted by UNICEF in 2022, at least 200 million girls and women alive today living in 31 countries have undergone female genital mutilation. Most countries that are affected by this are predominantly in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Arab states not negating the fact that FGM is also highly practiced in other parts of the world.
UNFPA in 2019, estimated high rates of FGM in a larger part of the world if it is continuous at recent levels, contributing to about 68 million girls being cut between 2015 and 2030 in 25 countries. The major challenge is not only protecting girls who are at risk of FGM but also ensuring those to be born in the future will also be free from the dangers of this practice. In 2019, it was estimated that about 4.1 million girls were at risk of FGM, in 2020 and 2022, the rise of COVID-19 compounded the vulnerability of these girls and women, especially those already at risk of FGM. Due to the rise of COVID-19, UNFPA estimates about two million cases of FGM would occur in the next decade which should be averted compulsorily and can lead to the reduction of the practice of FGM by up to 33 percent.
It is of utmost importance for society to understand the human right of young girls and women to live their life having full autonomy over their bodies. Unfortunately, Men have encouraged the continuous practice of FGM in the world today, having perceptions that uncut women have high tendencies to be promiscuous or seeing cut women as women of virtue to be married with an assurance of fidelity in the marriage compared to those who have not been cut. Men have also used this means to exercise masculinity or dominance over the sexual opposite.
Sometimes, men also encourage this act for the selfish intent of maintaining polygamous status, In Guinea, men have the notion that FGM reduces the likelihood of a woman engaging in premarital sex and in Somali men see the act as a means to preserve the dignity of girls. Although women happen to be at the receiving end of the perpetuation of FGM, research has shown a significant role in its continuous practice as fathers, husbands, community and religious leaders influence the decision-making process without considering the affected person which is the woman/girl involved. Another factor is men trying to get societal approval based on culture and to be regarded by peers.
Men and boy’s engagement are critical in the abandonment of the act because several forms of violence against women are attributed to men due to harmful social norms which must be eradicated to avoid and prevent toxic masculinity, a male privilege that fuels FGM and other forms of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) against women and girls. It is time for men to speak about violence against women and advocate for the movement to stop FGM. An instance of such involvement is foot binding in China where men advocated for the abolishment of the act and this played a crucial role in ending it (Broadwin, 1997).
Men have great influence over practices performed in their own families as well as within their communities which can be channeled into advocating for the course. To be an advocate for the course, put these into consideration:
- Take a stance against violence against women in our immediate communities, building respect, love, companionship and support for women, especially by those held in high esteem.
- Raise awareness with other men within personal communities. FGM is a very sensitive discussion, and as such will cause sparks during discussions but connecting it with wellbeing, health, childbirth and intimacy is a start to advocacy.
- Support and advocate for the empowerment of women and girls in personal communities. Advocate for the rights of women and girls, encouraging women and girls to continue education and speak up against all forms of gender-based violence.
- Familiarize yourself with the signs and symptoms of FGM/C. Take note of difficulty in walking, feeling depressed, or asking for help but reluctant to further explain.
- Support activists and organizations advocating to end FGM/C. Share information to kick out the idea of FGM.
The United Nations and other World Partners are striving to a goal of ending female genital mutilation by 2030 and as a means to this, the declaration Zero Tolerance Day for the 6th of February 2023.
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