According to the World Health Organization, FGM refers to: ‘procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs whether for cultural, religious or other non-therapeutic reasons’. It is sometimes called Female Genital Cutting or female circumcision. Traditional names include bondo, sande, sunna.

FGM is practised in about 28 African countries, the Middle East and South East Asia. The African countries with the highest prevalence rates of over 90% are Somalia, Sudan, Djibouti, Egypt, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about two million women and girls are cut every year around the world. According to the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), about 86,000 women and girls are affected by FGM each year in the UK. Hawa Trust is campaigning for the total elimination of FGM in the UK and Africa.

Hawatrust work with FGM/C affected communities by raising awareness of the dangers and legal repercussions of FGM/C and associated physical, emotional and psychological effect. We are focusing in civil society on the health risks of FGM/C, with more efforts to raise awareness of the practice in terms of maternal health HIV/AIDS, and obstetric fistuh.

We train and support professionals engaging with affected communities – by raising awareness of the issues and by building their confidence to support at risk communities in ways respectful of local cultures. We advocate and campaign for change at policy-level in the UK, EU and Africa.

Our strategy is that in the long run, girls will be fully knowledgeable on the effects of FGM/C to HIV and may be able to resist pressure to become a member of a Bondo Society.

According to the World Health Organisation, female genital mutilation (FGM), comprises of “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” A harmful practice with no health benefits, FGM can cause long-lasting physical, emotional and psychological trauma; and in some cases, death.

Female genital mutilation is classified into four major types:

  • Type 1– Clitoridectomy: partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals) and, in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).
  • Type 2 – Excision: partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (the labia are “the lips” that surround the vagina).
  • Type 3 – Infibulation: narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the inner, or outer, labia, with or without removal of the clitoris.
  • Type 4 – Other: all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.

Where does FGM happen?

Many cultures have different reasons for continuing FGM. From upholding the status of the community to maintaining her virginity, marriageability and bride price. From enhancing her beauty to increasing her husband’s sexual pleasure. These cultural, economic and religious justifications assume FGM benefits the girl as she transitions to womanhood.

FGM in the UK

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is illegal in the UK, but it is going on especially among minority ethnic communities. In 2001, about 66,000 women in England and Wales had undergone FGM. Alarmingly, 23,000 girls under the age of 15 among African communities are estimated to have.

Legal matters of FGM in the UK

FGM is a crime in the UK. Legislation includes the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985 and the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003. Scotland has passed the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (Scotland) Act 2005. Thus it is a criminal offence for anyone to perform, aid, abet, or counsel to procure FGM. It is also illegal to take a child out of the country to perform FGM.

Through the Female Genital Mutilation Act (2003) the law protects any girl who is a UK national or permanent resident from FGM anywhere in the world. The penalty has been increased from 5 to 14 years’ imprisonment. There has however, never been a criminal conviction for FGM.

Myths and facts about FGM

Myth 1: An uncut woman will become promiscuous (‘sleep around’) and have an uncontrollable sexual appetite.

Fact 1: FGM makes no difference to a woman’s sexual appetite but can stop her from enjoying sex. Sexual desire mainly  arises from hormones secreted by glands in the brain. Women should be able to choose what level of sexual activity is right for them personally. Some women like to wait to have sex until they are married, some feel ready earlier. So long as sexual activity is safe and respectful, all that matters is that women do what they feel is right.

Myth 2: If the clitoris is not cut, it will harm the husband during intercourse.

Fact 2: The clitoris gives a woman sexual pleasure and does not cause any harm to her or her husband.

Myth 3: If a woman does not undergo FGM, her genitals will smell.

Fact 3: FGM will not make the vagina any more hygienic. In fact, Type 3 FGM can make the vagina less hygienic.

Methods of FGM

Girls of Six to ten years have undergone FGM. Girls and young women are taken on holidays without knowing that they will undergo FGM. FGM is normally performed in poor light without anaesthesia. During the FGM procedure, they use blades, knives, broken glass or non-surgical instruments which are shared among many girls. These girls have to be forcibly restrained, for example their legs may be tied together for several days for healing to take place.

Effects of FGM

There are several effects of FGM ranging from inability to give birth to even death. The most common effects include haemorrhage, septicaemia, tetanus, urine retention, vaginal fistulae, ulceration of the genital region, risk of HIV infection, abscesses, scarring/keloid formation, dysmennorrhoea and haematocolpus (obstruction of menstrual flow), obstruction to urinary flow, urinary tract infection.

FGM also causes psychosocial trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, vaginal closure due to scarring, neuromata (cut nerve endings causing permanent pain), pain and chronic infection from obstruction to menstrual flow, painful intercourse (dyspareunia), lack of pleasurable sensations and orgasm.

There is also risk of infertility from pelvic inflammatory disease and obstructed genital tract, childbirth trauma – perineal tears and vaginal fistulae, prolonged or obstructed labour from uterine inertia or rupture, and death of infant and mother.