Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) refers to the practice of the partial or complete removal of external female genitalia. There are four types of FGM and all of them are conducted for non-medical reasons, but is usually done for social, cultural or religious reasons. FGM has no health benefits what so ever; instead girls and women who have undergone FGM usually suffer from long-term health problems, including serious bleeding, infection, infertility and even death. It is usually practiced in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia; however, it has also been practiced in Australia, Europe, Latin America, New Zealand and North America.
Girls and women who have undergone FGM are usually under the age of 15 and it is usually conducted against the girl’s well and consent. It is estimated that more than 200 million women and girls are affected by FGM and it is practiced in around 30 countries. Traditional practitioners who have no real medical training usually conduct FGM procedures and the equipment and tools used are usually unsafe and anesthetics are normally not used.
The practice of FGM has decreased throughout years and much more people are against the practice, as international originations and NGO’s have brought more awareness to the issue. Despite this fact, around three million girls living in Africa are still at risk of FGM and it is estimated that 30 million girls and women are expected to face FGM in the next decade. Tackling FGM requires more than just giving communities or victims aid and money, as multiple reports on FGM show that in order to achieve a long-term goal of preventing FGM, communities that practice this must change their attitude and mentality towards FGM, as it is apparent that it has become somewhat of a social norm in many communities in developing nations.
It is evident that people’s economic and social status, community, age, and education are factors that contribute towards support for FGM. For example, A UNICEF report on FGM shows that younger women are less likely to not support FGM, as oppose to older women who are more likely in support of the practice, as the support for FGM from women aged 15 to 19 is 34% in Egypt, compared to 59% of women aged 45 to 49. The support for FGM among women is higher in poorer households compared to women who come from richer households. For example, the same UNICEF report shows that nearly 80% of women in poorer household support FGM in Somalia, whereas fewer than 50% of women who come from richer households support FGM in Somalia. In addition, girls and women with no education are significantly more likely to support FGM. The report estimated that the support among women with no education in Sierra Leone is around 85%, as oppose to under 40% of women with secondary or higher education that supports FGM in Sierra Leone.
Furthermore, it is apparent that in areas where FGM is less prevalent the more people don’t support it, whereas in areas with higher prevalence there appears to be more support. For example, the previous UNICEF report used shows that around 90% of women don’t support FGM in Ghana, but it is estimated that around 4% of women aged 15-49 have undergone FGM and only 1% for girls aged 0-15 have also undergone FGM in Ghana. Whereas, in Mali around 75% of women support FGM and the prevalence rate for FGM in Mali among women aged 15-49 is nearly 90%. The reasons behind support for FGM among women is for social acceptance, despite the vast majority stating it has no benefits because in Guinea nearly 65% of women reported they support it for social acceptance. The majority of boys and men also stated there are no benefits, but for those who do support FGM, it is mainly for social acceptance, as 42% of men in Sierra Leone also cited social acceptance for justification and support of FGM.
Therefore, the reality of FGM is much more complex and difficult to overcome, as after reading multiple different reports from NGO’s that conducted surveys and in-depth research on FGM in areas with the highest prevalence, it has become apparent that it is a social norm, which is difficult to change. In communities where it is conducted it is a socially upheld behavioral rule, meaning families and individuals support the practice because they believe that their group or society expects them to do so. The abandonment of subjecting girls and women to FGM requires a process of social change that results in new expectations on families.