According to the World Health Organization, Female Genital Mutilation (also referred to as Female Circumcision or Cutting) consists of all procedures that involve the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. There are 4 types of FGM/C.

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  • Type 1: Clitoridectomy: This involves the partial or total removal of the clitoris or clitoris hood.
  • Type II: Excision: This involves the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora. (WHO definition)
  • Type III: Infibulation: This involves the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and sewing over the outer labia, with or without removal of the clitoris or inner labia. (WHO definition)
  • Type IV: All other forms of harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical reasons. (WHO definition)

FGM/C is practiced mostly due to cultural, religious, and social reasons. Some of the common reasons include:

    • Preserve chastity – FGM/C is believed to reduce a woman’s sexual desire and therefore is thought to help preserve a woman’s virginity until marriage
    • Maintaining and honoring familial and cultural traditions
    • “Cleanliness” – Some cultures believe that unless a woman is cut, she remains “unclean” and therefore is unfit for marriage
    • Coming into “womanhood”: Some believe that FGM/C is a necessary practice to initiate girls into womanhood
    • Religious beliefs: Some associate FGM/C with religious requirements, although no religious scripture mandates the practice

It is estimated that over 125 million women and girls have undergone FGM/C worldwide and 3 million are at risk every year of undergoing the procedure (Source: UNICEF 2013 Report ). FGM is mostly carried out on young girls, between the ages of infancy and 15. Some cultures perform the procedure right before a woman is to be married. The practice is most common in Africa and the Middle East but there have been several studies that show prevalence of FGM/C in the United States and Europe, mostly amongst immigrated communities from countries where the practice is most common. Most of these girls are taken abroad to have the procedure performed during school breaks.

In most cases, FGM/C is performed by a traditional practitioner using sharp cutting instruments such as razor blades, knives, and/or scissors that are rarely sterilized. In addition, most women and girls undergoing the procedure do so without the use of any anesthesia. As a result, there are many immediate and longterm physical complications associated with the practice. Some of these include:

  • Shock
  • Hemorrhage/excessive bleeding
  • Infections
  • Pain when urinating
  • Severe pain during sexual intercourse and menstruation
  • Increased risk of complications during childbirth; newborn deaths

Not only do women and girls endure extreme physical pain when undergoing FGM/C, but the emotional pain associated with the practice can sometimes last a lifetime unless some powerful, consciously directed healing work is done.

Shame, guilt, and feeling like “less of a woman” are common after-effects that come about for women and girls who have been forced to undergo FGM/C. And with the feelings of shame and guilt comes the need to punish oneself and others, especially those that subjected them to the practice — which, in almost every case, are family members.

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Considering the deep, long-lasting emotional issues that occur, it isn’t difficult from a modern Western perspective to see that the suppression and control of women and girls by attempting to disempower, denigrate, and strip them of their womanhood is what lies at the heart of the practice of FGM.

The fundamental truth that is overlooked, however, is that womanhood isn’t something that is simply held in or reflected by the female anatomy.  

Womanhood is innate.

It reaches far across the inner depths of a Spirit who has shown up here on the earth in a female body. Womanhood is the collective term for sensuality, sexuality, intuition, and deep female wisdom. These are inherent characteristics that the act of female circumcision aims, but many times fails, to eradicate.  

A high percentage of those who have been subjected to FGM, as deeply as they understand and recognise the social, cultural, and religious reasons behind it, often find it difficult to reconcile with their inner knowing that it is actually tantamount to extreme betrayal, as well as physical, emotional, and even spiritual abuse.  

To shine a light on the practice is to consider that it has its basis in a belief system that arises out of a concoction of painful lies such as:

  • The reputation of the family unit within the wider community is everything. It must be protected at all costs — even if unhappiness and invalidation on an individual level lies rampant at its core.  
  • Females are inferior. It is deeply embedded in the psyche of generations upon generations that women cannot be trusted on their own to uphold the honour and reputation of their families and therefore their natural sensibilities and states must be controlled.
  • True empowerment of women and girls is ‘unsafe’ for both men and women in communities which have perpetuated limiting or controlling religious, social, and cultural beliefs for generations.
  • Entire lineages of women in affected communities have been accepting of the practice as being part of their lot in life.  

What is interesting is that despite the perceived ‘acceptance’ of the practice, to drive home the possibility that centuries of women and girls in these communities might have actually been in deep emotional turmoil and pain would be to blow the lid on the power that these beliefs have yielded for so long.  

As wonderful as it would be to open the way for the healing process of female lineages in these communities to begin, self-healing is actually a very personal thing that each individual arrives to in their own time and in their own way.  And this is precisely why education around the topic is so key to being able to empower parents, mothers especially, and inform cultural and religious leaders about the very multi-layered, damaging effects this barbaric practice has on the entire female population of their communities — women and girls in relationship to themselves and their families which lie at the heart of these communities and the wider world.

Community and religious leaders must also be engaged in conversation so that they truly understand that the fate of thousands of women and girls rests in their hands. They need to be shown as leaders that they each possess their own power of choice.  That they can — and indeed ought to — assess the evolution of their communities and how to address its grassroots needs.  They need to be reminded that they do not need to be bound to the limits, fears, and outdated modalities of their successors and that they actually become stronger more respected leaders by having the courage to move with the times.

It simply isn’t possible to have a truly sustainable, healthy, thriving community based on honesty, fairness, authenticity, and love if damaged relationships are rife and the self-image and self-worth of half of the community is compromised.

Education of women = empowerment = personal choice.

Personal choice in this context means for a woman who has been subjected to FGM to:

  1.  Give herself permission to begin her journey of self healing in earnest in order that she can come into her own — the very relationship with herself and her world that her family and community tried to deny her.
  1. Reject the beliefs that underpin the practice and choose differently for her own young girls in order that they can begin not only changing the inheritance of female family lineage, but in so doing, creating the spaciousness and possibilities required in order for present and successive generations of affected women to be able to heal.

Organizations that help fight FGM/C and/or help FGM survivors

  1. a)      Edna Adan University Hospital
  2. b)      Stop FGM Now
  3. c)      Voice of Hope Africa
  4. d)      The Desert Flower Foundation


This article has been co-authored by Caroline Diana Bobart and Eman Ahmed. Eman underwent female circumcision as a young girl in Ethiopia. She is passionate about empowering women and girls and helping to eradicate FGM/C by educating women and affected communities about the harmful effects of the practice.

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