Global Human Rights Defence

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM): A Harmful Practice that still haunts the Globe

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM): A Harmful Practice that still haunts the Globe

Author: Ruhama Yilma Abebe

Department: Women’s Rights Team

Introduction 

  Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a horrendous practice that is prevalent around the world, with at least 200 million girls and women currently alive having undergone the practice (UNICEF, 2021). The practice has both physical and mental adverse effects on women. However, despite various international, regional and national efforts, there has not been a significant decline in the practice. In this article, the meaning, consequence, legal framework and prevalence of FGM will be discussed. 

 

What is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)? 

  Female Genital Mutilation is a harmful practice that involves “the partial or total removal of the female’s external genitalia or other injuries to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons” (WHO, 2008). According to the WHO, there are four types of FGM: clitoridectomy, excision, infibulation, and others (Dennis et al., 2021). 

  The first type of FGM, referred to as ‘clitoridectomy’, involves the “partial or total removal of the clitoris”. The second type of FGM, i.e. excision, involves the partial or total removal of the clitoris and labia minora, with or without the excision of the labia majora. The third type of FGM, i.e. infibulation, is identified as the most severe type of FGM involves the narrowing of the vaginal orifice by cutting and bringing together the labia minora or the labia major to create a type of seal, with or without excision of the clitoris with the cut edges of the labia stitched together in most instances. The fourth type of FGM includes all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, including pricking, piercing and others.  

  The age at which FGM is practised differs from culture to culture. However, FGM is most commonly performed before the age of five (UNICEF & UNGEI, 2021). 

  There are various reasons given to justify this horrible practice. These are social convention, preparation for adulthood and marriage, ensuring premarital virginity and marital fidelity, increasing marriageability, femininity, religious notions, and long-held cultural tradition (WHO, 2022). It is sought to ensure premarital virginity and marital fidelity as it reduces sexual enjoyment and even renders sexual relations painful. 

 

Prevalence of FGM around the World 

  More than 200 million girls and women alive today have been subjected to FGM in 31 countries (UNICEF, 2022). The rate of FGM has decreased, and girls are now one third less likely to be a victim of FGM than 30 years ago (Dennis, 2021). However, the rapid population growth, as well as the Covid-19 pandemic, has resulted in setbacks. 

  The pandemic has led to an estimated two million FGM cases that could have been prevented. This was mainly due to the interruption if the various programmes that had been put in place to prevent FGM. Moreover, even in 2020 alone, an estimated 4.1 million girls were at risk of being subjected to FGM (Dennis, 2021). 

 

Consequence of FGM

  In addition to being extremely painful, FGM has various long term and short term horrific effects on the physical and mental health of the girl. FGM has both immediate and long-term consequences for women (WHO, 2022). 

  The immediate consequences of FGM include severe pain, genital tissue swelling, excessive bleeding, fever, infections, urinary problems, wound healing problems, injury to surrounding genital tissue, shock, and death.

  On the other hand, the long-term adverse effects include urinary problems, vaginal problems, menstrual problems, scar tissue, sexual problems, increased risk of childbirth complications, newborn deaths, need for later surgeries, and psychological problems. 

 

International and Regional Legal Framework on FGM 

  FGM has been prohibited under both international and regional human rights frameworks. The international human rights instruments indirectly prohibiting FGM include:

 Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR), 

Convention against Torture (CAT), 

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), 

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), 

Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and 

Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

  In addition, FGM is prohibited explicitly by the CEDAW Committee in General Recommendation No. 14 concerning Female Circumcision, CEDAW Recommendation No. 24 on Women and Health, Joint General Recommendation No. 31 of the CEDAW and the Committee on the Rights of the Child on Harmful Practices, and CEDAW General Recommendation No. 34 on the Rights of Rural Women. 

  The regional legal frameworks that prohibit FGM include the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa on African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (Maputo Protocol), African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, European Convention on Human Rights, Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Violence), Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women (Convention of Belem Do Para) and American Convention on Human Rights. 

  The Maputo Protocol is the only instrument that explilcitly prohibits FGM. Article 5 (b) of the Protocol requires state parties to prohibit FGM “through legislative measures backed by sanctions, of all forms of FGM, scarification, medicalisation and para-medicalisation of FGM”. 

  Other documents that refer to FGM include the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women, General Assembly Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development, the 20200 Agenda for Sustainable Development, General Assembly Resolution 67/146 and 73/582 Intensifying Global Efforts for the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilations, African Union Resolution Call to Action on Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation, European Parliament Resolution of 7 on Zero Tolerance for FGM, and others. 

 

Conclusion

  Female Genital Mutilation is a harmful practice that still prevails around the globe, especially in the continent of Africa. The practice has various short-term and long-term effects on the physical and mental health of women. Various reasons are given for the practice, including increasing marriageability, ensuring premarital virginity, marital fidelity, social convention and others. The practice is prohibited by various human rights instruments, including the Maputo Protocol, the CEDAW, the ICCPR, the CAT, and others. Despite various efforts and legislative measures internationally and regionally to eliminate the practice, it has not shown a significant decline. More efforts and measures that include creating awareness within the community are necessary to ensure the eradication of the practice on the ground.  

 

References 

African Charter on Human and People’s Rights 

African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, European Convention on Human Rights

African Union Resolution Call to Action on Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation,

Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women,

CEDAW Committee in General Recommendation No. 14 concerning Female Circumcision

CEDAW General Recommendation No. 34 on the Rights of Rural Women

CEDAW Recommendation No. 24 on Women and Health

Convention against Torture (CAT) 

Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)

Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)

Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Violence)

Dennis, M., Melanie, G., Jill, G. & Karen, H. (2021). “Effectiveness of Interventions Designed to Prevent or Respond to Female Genital Mutilation: A Review of Evidence”, UNFPA, UNICEF, WHO and Population Council, Kenya.

European Parliament Resolution of 7 on Zero Tolerance for FGM

General Assembly Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women

General Assembly Resolution 67/146 and 73/582 Intensifying Global Efforts for the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilations

Inter-American Convention on Human Right

Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women (Convention of Belem Do Para) 

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)

Joint General Recommendation No. 31 of the CEDAW and the Committee on the Rights of the Child on Harmful Practices

Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development,

Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa on African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (Maputo Protocol)

The 2020 Agenda for Sustainable Development

UNICEF & UNGEI. (2021). “Technical Note Girls’ Education, Empowerment, and the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation”

UNICEF (2022, May). “Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)” UNICEF DATA, Retrieved on May 17, 2022 from https://data.unicef.org/topic/child-protection/female-genital-mutilation/

Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR)

WHO. (2008). Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation: An interagency statement, WHO, UNFPA, UNICEF, UNIFEM, OHCHR, UNHCR, UNECA, UNESCO,UNDP, UNAIDS, WHO.

WHO. (2022, January 21). “Female Genital Mutilation”, Retrieved on May 17, 2022 from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/female-genital-mutilation#:~:text=Immediate%20complications%20of%20FGM%20can%20include%3A%201%20severe,to%20surrounding%20genital%20tissue%209%20shock%2010%20death

World Bank. (2022). “Compendium of International and National Legal Frameworks on Female Genital Mutilation”, Sixth Edition

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