Trigger warning: This page will discuss Female Genital Mutilation and procedures related to this.
What is FGM?
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Female Genital Mutilation involves the partial or total removal of external female genitalia for completely non-medical reasons. As it is illegal, the procedures are often performed outside of official medical facilities by ‘professional circumcisers’, midwives, nurses or healers depending on the location. It is usually performed without anaesthetic and in unhygienic circumstances, increasing the risk of infection.
It is a violation of human rights and more than 3 million girls are at risk for FGM annually. In the UK FGM has been illegal since 1985 and anyone can also be prosecuted for sending women and girls abroad for FGM. If it is conducted on someone under 18, it is child abuse. If the victim is over 18, it is violence against women. Any FGM discovered on a person under 18 must be reported to the police.
There are no health benefits for girls or women who receive FGM. Victims are often opposed to the procedure or are too young to consent, with procedures usually happening between infancy and age 15. It can however happen to adult women and sometimes the impact it has one a woman’s body is not noticed until they are an adult.
Who is at risk?
FGM is a global issue. While the practice is more often carried out in regions of Africa, countries in the Middle East and Asia, there has been an increase in cases within the UK, and it is likely every area has women and girls living with or potentially at risk of FGM. While London has the highest rates, Manchester, Slough, Bristol, Leicester, and Birmingham have also identified a large group of women who have had FGM. Across Europe, the number of women and girls impacted by FGM is approximately 1 million.
Why does it happen?
There are many reasons FGM happens and varies depending on location, families, communities, and social and cultural factors. Some of the reasons include:
- FGM being a social or cultural norm so there is a pressure to conform to what everyone else is doing
- Preparing a girl for adulthood and marriage
- A religious or cultural belief that FGM will ensure a woman’s virginity is in place until they are married. In some places it is also seen to increase a woman’s chances of getting married
- An association with femininity and modesty as parts of a women’s genitalia are considered unclean or unfeminine. It is also seen to lower a women’s libido
- Local authorities believing it should be carried out. This includes religious and community leaders and even localised medical practitioners
Types of FGM
FGM is classified by four main types of procedure.
Type 1: This is the most common form of FGM. It involves A partial or total removal of external and visible parts of the clitoris, which is the most sensitive part of a woman’s genitals, or the clitoral hood, which is the folded skin surrounded the clitoris.
Type 2: The partial or total removal of the clitoral glans, the external and visible parts of the clitoris, and the labia minora or inner folds of the vulva. This could also include removal of the labia majora or the outside folds of skin of the vulva.
Type 3: Sometimes referred to as infibulation, this is a procedure that narrows the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. This is formed by the cutting and repositioning of the labia minora or majora, often through stitching. This can also be combined with type 1 FGM.
Type 4: This covers all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia carried out for non-medical purposes including pricking, scraping, and cauterizing the area. This type includes genital piercings, as while women may choose to have them, in some communities they are forced onto girls.
Are there side effects of FGM procedures?
Yes, and many of them can cause long-term complications. The process interferes the natural developments of girls’ and women’s bodies, and the risks involved increase depending on the amount of tissues that are damaged during a procedure. In some serious cases, the procedure could lead to death.
Complications can include:
- Severe pain
- Excessive bleeding
- Wound healing problems
- Urinary problems including painful urination and infections
- Complications with periods
- Pain during intercourse and decreased satisfaction
- Complications during childbirth
- Psychological and mental damage including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression
Support for Victims of FGM
If you have been the victim of FGM, or feel you or your child are in danger, there are many support systems in place for you.
You can access National Support Clinics via the NHS. They are available across the country and offer a range of support services for women with FGM. Find your closes one here.
If you are under pressure to have FGM performed on you or your daughter, speak with your GP or another healthcare professional if able to. You can also contact the NSPCC helpline on 0800 028 3550 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Black Women’s Health and Family Support in London offer care and support for families impacted by FGM, equipping women with practical skills, and offering support where they can.
At SUBU, you can reach out to SUBU Advice who will be able to offer support and supply you with external charities and organisations who will be able to help you. They can also be reached at SUBUAdvice@bournemouth.ac.uk
If you require immediate support out of hours, you can contact a Welfare Duty Officer at BU on 01202 962222 who will signpost you to the correct places.
Any conversations you have with SUBU Advice or AskBU are confidential and there will be no obligation for mandatory reporting to be put in place
The Shores is a Bournemouth based organisation focusing on sexual assault cases and deal with FGM support. They are contactable on 0800 970 9954.
What to do if you think someone has been impacted by FGM
If you believe someone to be in immediate danger, contact the police as soon as possible.
If you are concerned about someone’s safety, you can contact the NSPCC helpline on 0800 028 3550
If someone confides in you that they have been the victim of FGM, there are several things you can do.
If this person is under 18, it should be reported to the police as soon as possible as it is an act of child abuse.
If you require advice on how best to support someone being impacted by FGM, please contact SUBU Advice who will be able to assist you further.
For more information, assistance useful links in relation to FGM, please visit Woman Kind who offer a catalogue of advice and support channels.
This documentary produced by SUBU Women’s Officer Shannon McDavitt discusses how FGM can have an impact on pregnancy and childbirth.