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Understanding Female Genital Mutilation (FGM): A global human rights issue

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By Oumie Faal
4th year medical student (UTG)

UTG Medical Students’ Association

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), also known as female circumcision or female genital cutting, remains a deeply entrenched practice in many parts of the world despite decades of advocacy and efforts to eradicate it. This harmful practice, which involves the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons, has profound physical, emotional, and social consequences for millions of girls and women worldwide. In this article, we delve into the complexities of FGM, its prevalence, causes, consequences, and efforts towards its elimination.

Understanding Female Genital Mutilation:

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FGM encompasses various procedures, ranging from partial removal of the clitoris to more extreme forms such as infibulation, where the vaginal opening is narrowed by sewing or cutting. It is often carried out on young girls between infancy and adolescence, with the belief that it will ensure chastity, purity, and marriageability. However, FGM has no health benefits and is a violation of the human rights of girls and women.

Prevalence and geographic distribution:

FGM is practiced in parts of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, as well as among diaspora communities in Europe, North America, and Australia. The prevalence varies widely across regions and communities, with estimates suggesting that over 200 million girls and women have undergone FGM worldwide, and millions more are at risk. Despite efforts to combat the practice, it persists due to deep-rooted cultural beliefs, social norms, and gender inequality.

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Causes and drivers:

The perpetuation of FGM is fueled by a complex interplay of cultural, social, economic, and religious factors. Deeply ingrained patriarchal beliefs and gender norms often underpin the practice, with FGM viewed as a way to control women’s sexuality and ensure family honor. Additionally, myths and misconceptions surrounding FGM, such as notions of cleanliness, purity, and tradition, perpetuate its continuation within communities.

Health consequences of FGM:

Immediate complications:

Severe pain and bleeding: The immediate aftermath of FGM can result in excruciating pain and profuse bleeding, often due to the use of crude instruments and lack of proper medical care.

Risk of infection: FGM procedures are usually performed in unsterile conditions, increasing the risk of infection. Infections can lead to sepsis, tetanus, and other life-threatening conditions if left untreated.

Urinary problems: Damage to the urinary tract during FGM can cause difficulties with urination, including pain, urinary retention, and recurrent urinary tract infections.

Menstrual complications: FGM can interfere with the normal flow of menstrual blood, leading to painful menstruation, menstrual retention, and an increased risk of infections due to the inability to properly manage menstrual hygiene.

Long-term complications:

Chronic pain: Many women who have undergone FGM experience chronic pain in the genital area, which can significantly affect their quality of life and mental well-being.

Sexual dysfunction: FGM can result in sexual difficulties, including reduced sexual desire, pain during intercourse (dyspareunia), and difficulty achieving orgasm. These issues can lead to strained relationships and marital problems.

Childbirth complications: Women who have undergone FGM are at an increased risk of complications during childbirth, including prolonged labor, perineal tears, obstetric fistula, and neonatal mortality. These complications can have devastating consequences for both the mother and the newborn.

Psychological trauma: FGM can have profound psychological effects on survivors, including anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and feelings of shame and low self-esteem. The trauma of FGM can impact every aspect of a woman’s life, from her relationships to her ability to pursue education and employment.

Reproductive health issues: FGM can interfere with reproductive health and fertility. Scar tissue formation and damage to the reproductive organs can result in infertility, ectopic pregnancy, and complications during gynecological procedures such as childbirth and cesarean section.

Efforts towards elimination:

Efforts to eliminate FGM have gained momentum in recent years, with international organizations, governments, grassroots movements, and communities working together to address the root causes and consequences of the practice. These efforts include advocacy, legislation, education, community empowerment, and healthcare interventions. Key strategies involve engaging with religious and community leaders, empowering women and girls, and promoting gender equality and human rights.

Conclusion:

The health consequences of Female Genital Mutilation extend far beyond the immediate pain and trauma inflicted during the procedure. They can have lifelong implications for physical, emotional, and reproductive health, robbing women and girls of their dignity, autonomy, and well-being. It is imperative that efforts to eliminate FGM prioritize the health and rights of survivors, providing them with access to comprehensive healthcare, psychosocial support, and justice. By addressing the health consequences of FGM, we can take significant strides towards ending this harmful practice and promoting the health and dignity of women and girls worldwide.

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