Yesterday was International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation/ Cutting (FGM/C). FGM/C comprises of all procedures that involve altering or injuring the female genitalia for non-medical reasons and is recognised internationally as a violation of girls and women’s human rights, health and integrity (The United Nations) .
There is a common misconception that this is a faraway problem solely held within Africa and the Middle East. Although the occurrence of this process is concentrated in 30 countries across these regions, it is a universal problem and it happens in our own back-garden, even though it has been a criminal offence in the UK since 1985. This year 4.1 million girls around the world are at risk of undergoing FGM/C. In the UK, 60,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk of undergoing FGM/C and there are 137,000 women and girls currently living with the consequences of FGM/C.
Reflective of deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, FGM/C constitutes an extreme form of discrimination and violence against women and girls. It is also child abuse as it is nearly always carried out on minors. The practice has serious and harmful implications for women and girls. Not only do girls who undergo FGM/C experience a multitude of short-term consequences such as shock, severe pain, excessive bleeding and infections, they also experience longer term consequences on both their physical and mental health. Among these consequences are kidney damage and possible kidney failure, menstrual problems, infertility and complications during pregnancy and childbirth .
A WHO study discovered that 80% of the participants who had undergone FGM/C had received psychiatric diagnoses of affective or anxiety disorders, with a high rate (30.4%) meeting the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The researchers concluded that despite FGM/C being part of participants’ ethnic background, deep-set culturally held beliefs cannot prevent against the development of mental health problems such as PTSD . FGM/C is not an issue that can be decided on by personal preference – it is illegal abuse. Therefore, International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation/ Cutting (FGM/C) is an incredibly important awareness-raising day and it is also a day to show support to the victims and survivors of FGM/C.
Leyla Hussein is the founder of Dahlia project, a specialist support group for women who have undergone FGM/C. In December, I had the pleasure of hearing her discuss how, as society, we can foster a culture of justice and support for girls and women. Hussein advocates for ending the patriarchal narrative that women cannot enjoy sex. She expresses how the patriarchy tried to prevent the 200 million FGM/C survivors from living as sexual beings and that we must overcome their efforts .
The sharing of experiences through open dialogue is vital if we are to reject gender discrimination. We must unite together to stand against the abuse of women and girls and promote sexual education, human rights and gender equality. For FGM/C to be eliminated, it is critical that whole communities are engaged. So, today, reflect on whatever biases you may hold; ally with your counterparts, and work on undoing these biases together.
*** For FGM survivors who want to discuss their experiences in a safe, non-judgmental environment, please follow this link to find out about the NHS National FGM Support Clinics: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/female-genital-mutilation-fgm/national-fgm-support-clinics/