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Female genital mutilation

A look at the tragic phenomenon of FGM/Cs

To date, there are over 200 million women and girls worldwide who have undergone female genital mutilation and it is estimated that an additional 3 million are at risk of becoming victims each year.

What is meant by Female Genital Mutilation (FGM/C)?

Female Genital Mutilation or Cutting, encompasses a range of procedures, performed for cultural or other non-therapeutic reasons, including cutting, stitching, cauterizing and partial or total removal of the external female genitalia. These procedures are frequently completed with the use of razors and scrapers, in informal, unsafe locations, and without anesthesia, on girls often under the age of 15. The procedure is often completed by women in the community, or by family members of the victims.

These practices are carried out mainly on young girls, with the aim of controlling their sexual behavior and, in this way, ensure their desirability and suitability for marriage. In some cultures, moreover, the female genitals are considered impure and, therefore, these practices assume the value of purification rites.

This sociocultural practice causes pain, permanent health damage, serious consequences on mental and sexual health, and has sometimes even led to the death of girls subjected to it.

The current situation

In 2020, there were still 4.1 million girls at risk of mutilation and infibulation, and it can be assumed that, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, the numbers will still be around 3-4 million in 2022, as the procedures are carried out in informal settings, such as the girls' own homes.

The majority of victims of FGM are concentrated in Sub-Saharan African countries, but numerous cases are also found in countries of the Arabian Peninsula and Southeast Asia. As a result of immigration, victims of FGM have also been found in Europe, including Italy.

To cite a few sad examples, in Somalia, the percentage of girls and women aged 15-49 subjected to FGM/C is over 90%. In the country, school summer vacations are referred to as "cutting season." In Gambia, where the percentage is around 75%, 55% of victims underwent such procedures before the age of 5. In Yemen, 85% of women were subjected to female genital mutilation in the first week of life.

In many countries there is still a lack of national legislation prohibiting such practices, and in almost all of the countries concerned there is a lack of facilities and services that meet the needs of victims and address their mental and physical health.

Measures to prohibit female genital mutilation

Since the mid-twentieth century, numerous countries have banned the practice through national laws, such as in the case of Guinea in 1965, Senegal in 1999, Uganda in 2010, and Liberia in 2018, to name a few. In some nations, the practice has only been banned in certain regions, as in the case of Nigeria and Iraqi Kurdistan.

Despite the laws enacted in this regard, there are still far too many cases, spread both in countries with no such provisions and in those where progress has been made in terms of national legislation.

A particular case in point is Indonesia, where 68% of girls under the age of 12 in Jakarta province have undergone the practice. Although the government banned the practice in 2006, pressure to decriminalize the practice from religious leaders has prevailed. Current Indonesian legislation is ambiguous, to say the least.

In Italy, the provisions concerning the prevention and prohibition of the practice of female genital mutilation, have been included in Law No. 7 of January 9, 2006. This law not only puts in place several preventive measures, such as raising awareness of the issue and promoting, at health facilities and social services, the monitoring of previous cases, but also provides for imprisonment from 4 to 12 years for anyone practicing infibulation (with aggravating factors such as profit and practice on minors).

The United Nations has been fighting for a long time for the prevention of this phenomenon and for the definitive eradication of this practice by 2030, as foreseen by Goal 5 of the SDGs.

Regional and international treaties designate female genital mutilation as a form of gender-based violence that violates the rights of girls and women, including freedom from torture and other ill-treatment, the right to health, and the right to non-discrimination.

States have an obligation to guarantee these rights and combat these practices, as provided for in Article 5(a) of CEDAW and Article 5(b) of the Additional Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, among others.

Changes taking place

Recent years have witnessed a change in the perception of FGM/C and awareness of the phenomenon and its consequences. Condemnation of the practice by regional and international conventions, advances in national legislation, and the organization of groups, often led by young women, for greater awareness and a shared struggle to ban these practices, give hope for a brighter future.

However, numerous obstacles persist. Such practices are part of sociocultural rituals, which often want to be preserved by communities and defended by them in the name of cultural rights. The social approval attached to such procedures is another element that must be taken into account - and fought against - in order for the practice to be eradicated. Finally, it is necessary to consider the link that continues to exist between FGM/C and poverty.


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  • L'Autore

    Greta Thierry

    Greta Thierry vive in provincia di Pavia. Ha conseguito la laurea triennale in Scienze Politiche e Relazioni Internazionali presso l'Università degli Studi di Pavia e attualmente è al termine della Laurea Magistrale in Relazioni Internazionali, curriculum International Cooperation and Human Rights, presso l'Università degli Studi di Milano.
    L'ampio interesse per le relazioni internazionali e i diritti umani, le ha permesso - tra le altre cose - di entrare in contatto con Mondo Internazionale Post, dove ricopre il ruolo di autrice per l'area tematica Diritti Umani, nonché i ruoli di revisore e traduttrice.

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