Female genital mutilation (FGM)


February 6 marks International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, a practice the United Nations seeks to eliminate by 2030.[1]

Female genital mutilation (FGM), sometimes called “female circumcision”, is an issue for many societies today, affecting an estimated 200 million girls and women worldwide.[2]

FGM involves the partial or total removal of external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.[3]

Girls are particularly likely to undergo FGM in Arab and Islamic countries because many Islamic sheikhs[SE1]  provide religious cover for it. Some go so far as to consider it religiously “commendable” or even “obligatory”.[4]

The international community, however, has condemned the practice as a violation of women’s rights.[5]

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), FGM is classified into four major types:[6]

  • Type 1 is the partial or total removal of the clitoral glans (the external and visible part of the clitoris, which is a sensitive part of the female genitals), and/or the prepuce/clitoral hood (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoral glans).
  • Type 2 is the partial or total 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, also known as infibulation, is the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the labia minora, or labia majora, sometimes through stitching, with or without removal of the clitoral prepuce/clitoral hood and glans.
  • Type 4 includes all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterising the genital area.

The WHO has called for an immediate end to the practice because of its adverse health implications for girls and women. FGM has no health benefits but can harm women in many ways, in both the short and the long term. 

Immediate complications can include severe pain, excessive bleeding (haemorrhage), genital tissue swelling, fever, infections e.g., tetanus, urinary problems, wound healing problems, injury to surrounding genital tissue, shock, and even death.

Long-term complications can include:

  • urinary problems (painful urination, urinary tract infections);
  • vaginal problems (discharge, itching, bacterial vaginosis and other infections);
  • menstrual problems (painful menstruation, difficulty in passing menstrual blood etc.);
  • scar tissue and keloids;
  • sexual problems (pain during intercourse, decreased satisfaction etc.);
  • increased risk of childbirth complications (difficult delivery, excessive bleeding, caesarean section, need to resuscitate the baby etc.) and newborn deaths;
  • need for later surgeries: for example, the sealing or narrowing of the vaginal opening (Type 3 FGM) may lead to the practice of cutting open the sealed vagina later (deinfibulation) to allow for sexual intercourse and childbirth. Sometimes genital tissue is stitched again several times, including after childbirth, hence the woman goes through repeated opening and closing procedures, further increasing both immediate and long-term risks; and
  • psychological problems (depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, low self-esteem etc.).

If FGM continues to be practised at current levels, 68 million girls in 25 countries[SE2]  will be subjected to FGM by 2030.[7]

In Oman, the government amended the Child Law in 2019 to include FGM as a traditional practice harmful to children’s health and liable to punishment with up to three years in prison.[8]

A study carried out by the human rights NGO Equality Now, in partnership with the End FGM European Network and the US End FGM/C Network, concluded that Type 1 and in some cases Type 2 FGM was common in Oman.[9]

The study said that a high proportion of the women in its sample from Oman – higher than in other Arab Gulf countries – had undergone FGM.[10]

One of the biggest challenges facing girls in Oman is the connection between this phenomenon and religious sheikhs. For example, the Grand Mufti of Oman, Sheikh Ahmad al-Khalili, once commented on FGM by saying that it does not violate women’s bodily integrity but rather preserves good relations between them and their husbands.[11] This comment has doubtless caused a worsening of the health situation of girls who were cut because of their mothers’ or fathers’ belief in the truth of the Grand Mufti’s every utterance!

What, today, in your opinion is the best way of eliminating this harmful tradition and reaching zero cases of FGM by 2030?

[1] https://www.un.org/en/observances/female-genital-mutilation-day

[2] Emma Batha, Thomson Reuters Foundation, 2018. Factbox: Female genital mutilation around the world: a fine, jail or no crime? https://www.reuters.com/article/us-africa-fgm-lawmaking-factbox/factbox-female-genital-mutilation-around-the-world-a-fine-jail-or-no-crime-idUSKCN1LT2OS

[3] https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/female-genital-mutilation?fbclid=IwAR2rZLOpUzkpn-NCWIyqW_5Vtzk66_0faTHAo1sAtiUx26cbEsHlp-pjsFc&filter_by=featured&hss_channel=fbp-225612270801893&jwsource=cl&s=kistner&utm_content=117588489&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook

[4] https://islamqa.info/en/answers/45528/medical-benefits-of-female-circumcision

[5] https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/female-genital-mutilation?fbclid=IwAR2rZLOpUzkpn-NCWIyqW_5Vtzk66_0faTHAo1sAtiUx26cbEsHlp-pjsFc&filter_by=featured&hss_channel=fbp-225612270801893&jwsource=cl&s=kistner&utm_content=117588489&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook

[6] Ibid.

[7] United Nation Population Fund, 2018. FGM Trends We Aim To Change. https://www.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/resource-pdf/18-053_FGM-Infographic-2018-02-05-1804.pdf

[8] https://wafoman.com/2019/08/18/%D9%84%D8%A7%D8%A6%D8%AD%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B7%D9%81%D9%84-%D8%AA%D8%AC%D8%B1%D9%91%D9%85-%D8%AE%D8%AA%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A5%D9%86%D8%A7%D8%AB-%D9%88-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%88%D8%B3/

[9] https://www.equalitynow.org/fgmc_a_call_for_a_global_response_report

[10] https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/equalitynow/pages/2318/attachments/original/1584134248/FGM-C_in_the_Middle_East_Region.pdf?1584134248

[11] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUzO-HHUfnQ

 [SE1]would it be worth saying that not all religious leaders agree on this, and that some claim there is no basis in Islam for it? because otherwise it might seem we would have to abolish Islam (maybe you might think that’s a good idea! – but it won’t happen) in order to eliminate FGM

 [SE2]Oman isn’t one of them…