Harmful traditional practices- Female Genital Mutilation

Today there is an alarming trend in some countries where the procedure is being carried out by health care providers. UNICEF estimates that one in four FGM procedures where performed by a health care personnel. Medicalising this procedure risks normalising it and just because a doctor does it does not make it any less barbaric.

      Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), is a non-therapeutic surgical modification of the Vagina. It is an ancient tradition that was and is still being practised in many parts of Africa (Yirga, Kassa, Gebremichael, & Aro, 2012). For a very long time, the Maasai people in Kenya, Tanzania, and parts of Nigeria have been circumcising women just to prevent them from enjoying sex. Other reasons given for supporting FGM include, it is a good tradition, a religious requirement or a necessary rite of passage for woman into womanhood. The belief is that it ensures cleanliness and raises the chances of a woman getting married. It prevents promiscuity, preserves virginity and facilitates childbirth by widening the birth canal.

     Female Genital Mutilation is often done by elders of the land, with sharp unsterilised knives and without anaesthesia. (Ahanonu & Victor, 2014) Found that Nigerian women had mixed feelings about FGM. They found that over half of the participants in the study, felt that FGM did not have any beneficial outcome for women. However, 42% of the women studied also believed that uncircumcised women will become sexually promiscuous. 

      This is supported by another Nigerian study which concluded that mothers had the opinion that FGM prevents sexual promiscuity. One of the reasons given for this is that most women that were interviewed were not aware of the negative health effects of FGM and the gynaecological problems that follow the procedure.  The study further found that there is a relationship between the mother’s educational background and their perception of FGM.

Today there is an alarming trend in some countries where the procedure is being carried out by health care providers. UNICEF estimates that one in four FGM procedures where performed by a health care personnel. Medicalising this procedure risks normalising it and just because a doctor does it does not make it any less barbaric.

The Numbers

The world health organization estimates that 200 million girls and women alive today have gone through FGM in the countries where it is still being practiced. Most girls are cut before the age of 15. It is further estimated that 3 million girls are at risk of undergoing Female genital mutilation every year (World Health Organisation, 2013. Recent studies have also indicated that countries that have high FGM also have a high maternal mortality rate (United Nations Population Fund, 2017).

Procedures used

  • Type 1 – This is the partial or complete removal of the clitoris or prepuce (clitoridectomy)
  • Type II- The clitoris and labia minora are partially or completely taken out with or without the removal of the labia majora.
  • Type III- This is the most severe form of FGM, the procedure requires the narrowing of the vaginal orifice with the creation of a covering seal by cutting and appositioning of the labia minora and/or labia majora with or without the removal of the clitoris. The wound appositioning consists of stitching or holding the cut areas together for a certain period. For example, a girl’s legs are bound together to create a covering seal. Essentially the only thing left is a small opening for the female to urinate.
  • Type IV – pricking, piercing, or incising of the clitoris or both, stretching of the labia, or both; cauterization by burning the clitoris and surrounding tissue (WHO, 2013).

Other forms of FGM include; scraping of the tissue found around the vagina or cutting of the vagina, the introduction of corrosive substances or herbs into the vagina to cause bleeding or for the purpose of tightening or narrowing it.

Health risks


  • severe pain
  • excessive bleeding (haemorrhage)
  • genital tissue swelling
  • fever
  • infections e.g., tetanus
  • urinary problems
  • Problems with wound healing
  • injury to surrounding genital tissue
  • shock
  • death.

Long-term effects can include:

  • problems with Urination; this includes, painful urination, urinary tract infections);
  • vaginal problems (discharge, itching, bacterial vaginosis and other infections);
  • problems with menstruation, for example, painful menstruations and difficulty in passing menstrual to name a few.
  • scar tissue and keloid formation
  • pain during sexual intercourse which leads to reduced satisfaction during sex.
  • increased risk of childbirth complications (difficult delivery, excessive bleeding, cesarean section, need to resuscitate the baby, etc.) and newborn deaths; need for later surgeries: for example, the FGM procedure that seals or narrows a vaginal opening (type 3) needs to be cut open later to allow for sexual intercourse and childbirth (de-infibulation).
  • 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” (WHO, 2013)
  • psychological problems (depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, low self-esteem, etc.);
  • health complications of female genital mutilation.
  • Other studies have indicated that it FGM, increases the chances of the women contracting HIV/AIDS
  • Women have gone through type III are more likely to have long droned out labour and more likely to have a cesarian section and excessive bleeding. There is also an increased risk of having to resuscitate the baby and a high infant mortality rate.

Finally, FGM has no health benefits, yet it is still being practised in large parts of Africa. The practice can be stopped through education and empowering women. As the paper has indicated, most of the women that subject their children to this barbaric practice do so without knowing the full ramifications.


Ahanonu, E. L., & Victor, O. (2014). Mothers’ perceptions of female genital mutilation. Health Education Research, 29(4), 683-689. doi:10.1093/her/cyt118

Yirga, W. S., Kassa, N. A., Gebremichael, M. W., & Aro, A. R. (2012). Female genital mutilation: prevalence, perceptions and effect on women’s health in Kersa district of Ethiopia. International Journal of Women’s Health, 4, 45-54. doi:10.2147/IJWH.S28805

World Health Organization. (2013). Female genital mutilation Retrieved from http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/fgm/prevalence/en/

United Nations Population Fund. (2017). Female genital mutilation frequently asked questions Retrieved from http://www.unfpa.org/resources/female-genital-mutilation-fgm-frequently-asked-questions

Khattab, H. (1996). Women’s perceptions of sexuality in rural Giza.

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