No one knows for sure when female genital mutilation (FGM) began. Egyptians practiced the procedure as a way of differentiating the aristocracy as far back as 2000 years ago. People practice FGM for cultural and social reasons, but there is no evidence that it is based in religion. Neither the Bible nor the Quran mention FGM. There are also no reasons to perform FGM for medical reasons. Here are 10 facts about FGM:

  1. Female genital mutilation occurs when part or all of the female genital organs are cut or removed. In some cases, the vaginal opening is sewn together using folds of the surrounding skin. A small opening is left where urine and menstrual blood trickle out.
  2. The practice of FGM is found mainly within 30 countries of Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Today, over 200 million girls are alive who have had the procedure.
  3. The procedure is most often practiced on girls between infancy and the age of 15. Belief in the benefits of the procedure varies from culture to culture. Some believe it suppresses sexual impulses, guarantees virginity until marriage or reduces the potential for extra-marital affairs.
  4. The four countries where the highest percentage of women and girls have been cut are in Africa. Those countries are Somalia, Guinea, Djibouti and Sierra Leone.
  5. The United Nations campaigns against the practice of FGM and believes it is a violation of human rights.
  6. In 2008, the United Nations Population Fund and the United Nations Children’s Fund created the largest joint program to increase the abandonment of the practice and also to provide care for the consequences. Together these groups published the piece  “Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: Accelerating Change.” The program’s major accomplishments, as summarized in a report published in 2014, were enacting better policy and legal environments to eliminate FGM, providing greater healthcare and social services and increasing acceptance amongst the population against the practice.
  7. The United Nations passed a resolution in December 2012 that officially banned the practice of FGM.
  8. The U.N. General Assembly adopted Resolution A/RES/67/146 in 2012 to observe February 6 as the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation to enhance awareness and begin taking steps against FGM.
  9. In 1996, the U.S. passed a law making female genital mutilation illegal. It is also illegal to leave the U.S. for the procedure. However, only 24 U.S. states have enacted laws to make FGM a crime.
  10. In April 2017, two doctors and the doctors’ wives were arrested in Detroit on the grounds of performing FGM. This is the first case in the U.S. of an arrest since the passage of the law.

There is good news to report on FGM. As awareness of the issue has increased, the percentage of girls aged 15-19 that have been cut has declined in the countries where FGM is most prevalent. Unfortunately, just the opposite is happening in the U.S. The number of cases of female genital mutilation has tripled since 1990 as the number of people from countries who practice FGM immigrate to the U.S. Efforts must continue to decrease or entirely end this practice.

Jene Cates

Photo: Flickr