Although the reality of female genital mutilation affects millions of women around the world, it remains totally unknown and invisible in many countries where it is rarely carried out. As a result, many people have never even heard of it. Despite this, the terrible reality of removing the clitoris is becoming more widely known thanks to awareness campaigns and the first-person testimonials of many of its victims.
Both the media and the fieldwork of hundreds of organizations have made the problem a priority on today’s agenda. However, female genital mutilation is still a harsh reality and it will take some time before it is eradicated. Many African governments have banned the practice in their countries, but there are no tools in place to follow this up and make sure the ban is carried out. This, in itself, has caused serious collateral damage since the mutilations are now carried out clandestinely and in increasingly precarious conditions, without the help of health care professionals, and with a total lack of hygiene. As such, this multiplies the risk of diseases, causes serious complications, and can even lead to death. Therefore, instead of dissuading the removal of girls’ clitorises in countries where genital mutilation is regularly carried out, the prohibition has had the opposite effect by putting the health and lives of the victims at greater risk.
Changing legislation in the international sphere and declaring good intentions are not enough to eradicate a problem which is closely linked to a community and to its culture. It is of vital importance that 100% of the resources are invested inside the communities so that the negative effects of genital mutilation on girls and women are explained to them and this terrible practice is abolished in the long run.
According to the World Health Organization (2014), removal of the clitoris or other forms of female genital mutilation can be defined as the removal of tissue from any part of the female genitalia for cultural, religious, or any other reasons that have no medical purposes. The main consequence of this practice is the almost complete loss of sensitivity, but it is also accompanied by psychological trauma. Some girls and women bleed to death or die due to infection in the weeks following the operation. This is because it is almost always done in a rudimentary fashion by traditional healers or older women who use very unorthodox tools such as pieces of glass, knives, or razor blades.
The World Health Organization has classified four types of mutilation:
- Clitoridectomy: partial or total removal of the clitoris (small, sensitive erectile organ of the female genitalia) and, in very rare cases, only of the prepuce or clitoral hood (fold of skin that covers the clitoris).
- Excision: partial or total removal of the clitoris and labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora.
- Infibulation: narrowing of the vaginal opening to create a seal by cutting and repositioning the labia minora or major, with or without removal of the clitoris.
- Other: all other harmful procedures of the external genitalia for non-medical purposes, such as piercing, incising, scraping, or cauterization of the genital area.
Genital mutilation is a traditional practice and its practitioners believe that it enhances a girl’s beauty, honour, marriage possibilities, social status, and chastity. Parents encourage mutilation as they believe it will protect the honour of the family and is in the interests of their daughters. According to the World Health Organization, it is estimated that there are between 100 and 140 million women and girls in the world who suffer the consequences of genital mutilation.