What is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)?

The Home Office defines FGM as a procedure where the female genital organs are injured or changed and there is no medical reason for this.

It is frequently a very traumatic and violent act for the victim and can cause harm in many ways. FGM is often called “female circumcision” (FC), implying that it is similar to male circumcision.  However, the extent of cutting is much more severe thereby impairing a woman’s sexual and reproductive functions.



The age at which FGM is carried out varies enormously according to the community.

• Most girls undergo FGM when they are between 7 and 10 years old. However, FGM seems to be occurring at earlier ages in several countries because parents want to reduce the trauma to their children.

They also want to avoid government interference and/or resistance from children as they get older and form their own opinions.

• Some women undergo FGM during early adulthood when marrying into a community that practices FGM or during pregnancy or after the birth of a first child.


• FGM is practiced in at least 26 of 43 African countries.
The prevalence varies from country to country, with some countries having a prevalence as high as 98%.

• FGM is also found in Asia and Middle East among some ethnic groups in Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen, as well as in parts of India, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

• FGM has become an important issue in the UK and the west due to the continuation of the practice through migration from countries where FGM is common.


FGM has been classified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) into four types:

Type 1
Excision (removal) of the clitoral hood with or without removal of part or all the clitoris.

Type 2
Removal of the clitoris together with part or all the labia minora.

Type 3 (infibulation)
Removal of part or all the external genitalia (clitoris, labia minora, and labia majora) and stitching and/or narrowing of the vaginal opening leaving a small hole for urine and menstrual flow.

Type 4 (unclassified)
All other operations on the female genitalia, including:
• Pricking, piercing, stretching, or incision of the clitoris and/or labia;
• Cauterization by burning the clitoris and surrounding tissues;
• Incisions to the vaginal wall;
• Scraping or cutting of the vagina and surrounding tissues; and
• Introduction of corrosive substances or herbs into the vagina.


The practice can cause severe pain and there may be immediate and/or long-term health consequences, including mental health problems, difficulties in childbirth, causing danger to the child and mother; and/or death.

Immediate Physical Problems
• Intense pain and/or haemorrhage that can lead   to shock during and after the procedure.
• Haemorrhage can also lead to anaemia.
• Wound infection, including tetanus.
• Damage to adjoining organs from the use of         blunt instruments by unskilled operators.
• Urine retention from swelling and/or blockage     of the urethra.

Long-Term Complications
• Painful, blocked or abnormal menstruation.
• Recurrent urinary tract infections
• Abscesses, dermoid cysts, and keloid scars.
• Increased risk of maternal and child morbidity and mortality due to obstructed labour.                Obstructed labour can also cause brain                  damage to the infant and complications for the    mother.
• Infertility has been linked to FGM complications.
• Some researchers describe the psychological      effects of FGM as ranging from anxiety to              severe depression and psychosomatic illnesses. Many children exhibit behavioural changes after FGM, but problems may not be evident until the child reaches adulthood.
• FGM is likely to increase the risk of HIV infection in cases where the same unsterilized instrument is used on several girls at a time.

Why is FGM practiced?

Communities give several reasons to justify why they perform fgm. Some of the justifications are:

• To control women’s sexuality and to reduce sex drive. FGM is perceived to prevent promiscuity.
• To preserve their girl’s virginity particularly for Type 3. FGM is used as a physical barrier to maintain virginity.
• Religion is commonly used as a justification for FGM. By passing off FGM as religious duty, communities are more likely to sustain the practice.
There is no religious basis for FGM in Christianity, Islam or Judaism.
• FGM is performed to get women ready for marriage.
• Some women choose to undergo FGM because they fear social exclusion.
• FGM is seen as a rite of passage from girl to womanhood.
• FGM can also be performed out of love. It is often carried out to ensure that a young woman will get a good husband, be admired, cherished and respected by her community. Families will try to protect their girls from being ridiculed or shunned by their community.

1. World Health Organization. (1995).
2. PATH Publications – FGM-The Facts
3. Home Office Publications- Female Genital Mutilation