Over 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone Female Genital Mutilation (or FGM). At the current rates, it is estimated that an additional 68 million girls will face it before 2030. Whilst it may seem like this is a procedure that happens in other countries and cultures, this has been an issue in the UK as well. According to City University, there is an estimated 137,000 women and girls living with FGM in England and Wales. However, this extraordinary high number does not represent the amount of people who have been convicted of it. So, what is going on?
FGM is a procedure where the female genitals are deliberately cut, changed or injured. However, there is no medical reason for doing this. It usually occurs between infancy and the age of 15, most commonly before puberty begins. It is practised by traditional circumcisers who do not tend to have any medical training. Alternatively, it can be done by a member of the family. The girl is usually forcibly restrained as they do not tend to take anaesthetics.
FGM is a cultural practice that is concentrated in western, eastern and north-eastern regions of Africa, in some countries in the Middle East and Asia, as well as among migrants from these area. As a result of this, it is a global issue.
There are four types of FGM:
- Procedure where part or all of the clitoris is removed. The WHO predicts that this is the most common procedure at 90%
- Removing part or all of the clitoris and the inner labia, with or without removal of the labia majora.
- Narrowing the vaginal opening by creating a seal, formed by cutting and repositioning the labia. A small gap is left for urine and menstrual blood. WHO predicts that 10% of procedures include this.
- Any other harmful procedures to the female genitals including pricking, piercing, cutting, scraping or burning the area.
Why does it happen?
FGM is carried out for various cultural, religious and social reasons within families and communities. It is said to ensure premarital virginity and marital fidelity. Not only this, but it is said to reduce a woman’s libido which therefore, helps her resist extramarital sexual acts.
Unfortunately, this painful procedure can have a lot of side effects:
- Constant pain
- Pain having sex
- Repeated infections
- Depression that can lead to self harm or any other psychological harm
- Problems peeing or holding pee
- Difficulty in becoming pregnant
- Difficulty in childbirth
- Some girls even die from the blood loss or infection as a direct result of the procedure
FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985 and individuals can face up to 14 years if they have performed it. Those who are guilty of failing to protect a girl from FGM can face up to 7 years in prison. All of the actions below are considered illegal under the UK’s law:
- It is an offence to perform FGM (including taking individuals abroad)
- Help a girl perform FGM on herself in or outside the UK
- Help anyone perform FGM in the UK
- Help anyone perform FGM outside the UK on a UK national or resident
- Fail to protect a girl for whom you’re responsible for from FGM
The communities at particular risk of FGM in the UK originate from:
- Ivory Coast
- Sierra Leone
The battle against FGM in the UK is a tough one as it is very hard to prove who is guilty of it. In fact, last year was the first time that someone had been convicted of FGM in the UK. A 37-year-old Ugandan woman was found guilty of performing FGM to her 3 year old daughter in the summer of 2018. The woman, and her Ghanaian partner, both lived in Walthamstow, east London. Whilst she was being questioned, her house was searched. In doing this, officers found 40 frozen limes and 2 ox tongues with screws embedded into them. Within the limes were names of individuals working on her case. The apparent aim was to keep police, social workers and lawyers quiet. The woman’s defence was that the girl injured herself by falling on metal after climbing to get biscuits from a cupboard. However, she was sentenced at the Old Bailey. Her partner, on the other hand, was cleared of all charges. This is the fourth case that has been brought to UK courts but is the only one that has not been acquitted. Campaigners said that they hope this conviction will encourage other victims to report FGM.
There is a long road until FGM is eradicated from the global sphere. Until, it is perceived as wrong within these communities, it will never be fought altogether.