International day of zero tolerance for female genital mutilation

International day of zero tolerance for female genital mutilation is the international day of awareness to eradicate the brutal and cruel act of female genital mutilations and to support the rights of girls and women. Female genital mutilation has been recognized as the violation of human rights of women. According to a report, approximately 200 million women are living today who have undergone genital mutilation procedures across 30 countries. To completely eliminate this violent act, it is important to understand what female genital mutilation is, the harmful risks caused by it, and to spread awareness.

What is female genital mutilation (FGM)?

First, it is important to know what FGM is. It is also referred to as a female circumcision or female genital cutting. It involves cutting whole or partially removing some part of female external genitalia for non-medical reasons. It also includes any sort of injury to the female genitalia for cultural reasons rather than medical reasons. Different parts of the female genitalia are cut depending on the country and their culture and traditions. It involves removal and cutting of clitoral glans and clitoral hood, cutting of outer and inner labia etc. It is done at any age from birth to puberty (i.e. 15 years of age). In most countries it is done to girls under the age of 5. Traditionally, the non-sterile instruments such as a blade or any sharp object like a cutter, scissors, knife or razor are used to perform this procedure. Most of the time, genital mutilation procedures are done without any anesthesia, inflicting excruciating pain.

Commonly this procedure is practiced in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and their related communities. The traditional women who undergo such procedures believe it is a sign of beauty and purity. This cruel procedure has been supported by those women who view it as a sign of honor, and believe that if their daughters do not undergo the procedure, they will be blocked from society.

Female genital mutilation is divided into four types depending on the part of genitalia to be cut or removed.

Type I or clitoridectomy: The complete or part of the clitoris is removed. The upper skin which is placed over the clitoris, called prepuce is removed.

Type II or excision: It involves the complete or partial removal of the clitoris with small inner lip surrounding vagina, with or without removing labia majora.

Type III or infibulation: The opening of the vagina is narrowed down by cutting the whole labia minora and part of or complete labia majora and stitched by leaving a small opening for urination and menstrual flow.

Type IV: It includes all other harmful cutting, removal, piercing, burning, pricking, scrapping, closing and sealing procedures for non-medical reasons.

Myths about female genital mutilation

There are a number of misconceptions and common beliefs about female genital mutilations which are completely false.  Some of the myths are:

  • Preparation of girl for marriage
  • Some associate it to the religion
  • Some believe it’s an ugly part of the body, so remove it
  • Sign of purity and beauty
  • Reduce women’s desire for sex and preserve virginity
  • Cultural or traditional support
  • Enhance cleanliness

These are all myths and beliefs of people around the country. Greater education and awareness will help change how FGM is viewed and ultimately eradicate it.  It is extremely necessary to educate people about female genital mutilation, as it imposes several, severe health risks.

What are its impacts?

There are countless harmful impacts associated with female genital mutilations, yet to date, no health benefits have been found.  It causes only harm; both short term effects and long term complications. FGM causes physical and psychological health effects on women and girls. Immediate effects involve severe pain, bleeding and infection when non-sterilized instruments are used and hygienic conditions are ignored for the procedure. Later, long term complications can involve severe bacterial infections, trouble while urinating and obstruction of the menstrual flow – especially in type III or infibulation where due to a narrow opening, blood starts accumulating in the uterus and causes infection. Development of cancerous cells or cysts, complications during pregnancy, infertility, difficulties at the time of childbirth, and even death due to fatal bleeding, are just some other long term effects of FGM.

Ongoing psychological issues can also occur with such procedures.  These include depression, anxiety, stress, isolation, inability to face society, reduction in sexual pleasure and even nightmares. At the time of childbirth, the tissues of the vagina need to be torn and cut open to make it easy for childbirth; an extremely painful procedure. In some communities, after childbirth, the tissues are re-stitched for the benefit of a woman’s spouse so he can feel pleasure with a tighter vagina. It is not only a problem for women, but it also causes a harmful impact on the child at the time of childbirth. It’s been reported that for every 100 deliveries, one or two babies die because of complications related to female genital mutilation.

Why it is important to bring awareness about female genital mutilation?

Keeping in view the negative impacts of female genital mutilations, it is important to spread awareness and educate communities and young girls about its associated risks. As there are no benefits to justify FGM and the risks are extremely detrimental, it must end up. The people of communities in which FGM is practiced believe it as their culture and tradition. They don’t know about the overwhelming, negative and harmful impacts. To get rid of this painful and traumatizing procedure, it is imperative to create greater understanding and awareness.  Lack of awareness and education combined with strong traditional beliefs are the most common reasons why female genital mutilation persists, thus greater education is vital.  Awareness is not only about putting an end to FGM, but to create a foundation for education on equality, women empowerment, and helping women grow socially and economically.  This will help people change their perspectives and attitudes towards these outdated, cultural beliefs. Women should know their worth and their respect should not be associated with cutting their genitalia. Women have a right to have good physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health, to have control over their bodies, to live free of torture, to have equality, physical integrity, respect and dignity and to reach their greatest potential.

What can we do to eradicate FGM?

The most powerful and successful way to end FGM is through education and awareness.  Due to greater awareness, many global leaders, activists, law makers, health care workers and organizations are actively and passionately working together to put an end to FGM.  Awareness is the key that will change the attitude and thinking of communities where FGM is most prevalent.  Currently, this practice is legally banned in many countries, but to end this, the law alone is not enough. As FGM is a deeply rooted cultural ritual, it will be challenging to change the mindset of those who support and practice it. Legislation must be combined with awareness and education initiatives among those communities. Laws should be made within these countries to ban FGM, allowing their governments to take action against citizens who violate these laws.  It is not enough to only talk about the harmful effects of FGM, but to teach women and girls about women empowerment and human rights.

In addition to awareness, it is essential to reach out to traditional communities where FGM is commonly practiced.  If you happen to live in an area where FGM is practiced, you can volunteer to help, raise your voice against it or inform concerned helplines. You can also take practical actions to be most effective; be vigilant and stay attentive and observant in your surroundings. Girls are usually taken abroad for doing FGM. Since they are very young and unaware of the repercussions at this age, they are unable to make informed decisions and speak for themselves. You can help by keeping an eye on warning signs. Some of the common signs are: Planned summer tour could be for FGM procedure, additional holidays at the start or end of summer holidays or holidays for visiting special relatives. Usually, they undergo this procedure during summer holidays, as they have more time off to heal prior to returning to school. Eventually, public awareness, education, the harmful impacts of FGM, legislation and support from local and global leaders will prevail, putting an end to female genital mutilation practices.  For more information, please share and visit