Let's Use Diem to Help End FGM: What is Female Genital Mutilation?

Female genital mutilation, which is also referred to as FGM, is the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia— or other injury to the female genitalia— for non-therapeutic (non-medical) reasons.

There are 4 main types of FGM:

Type 1: Clitoridectomy

This is the total or partial removal of the clitoral glans, which is the external part of the clitoris: the tip of the clitoris. (It would be near impossible to excise the whole clitoris since it is mostly internal: the clitoris has crura— legs— which extend backwards, internally).

Type 2: Excision

This is the excision of the clitoral glans and the labia minora (the inner lips) and can also involve the partial or total removal of the labia majora (the outer lips).

Type 3: Infibulation

This is the most extensive of the types of FGM: the vulva, including the vaginal opening, is sealed and only a tiny opening is left for bodily secretions (but, this opening is not large enough to allow for an easy release of bodily fluids and, so, this can cause a build up of menstrual blood, which can be extremely painful and can lead to problems including severe infections). In addition to the sealing up of the vulva, ‘infibulation’ usually also involves the partial or total removal of the clitoral glans as well as the inner and outer labia before the vulva is sealed up.

Asha Ismail, an FGM Survivor from Kenya, shares her personal experience of having been infibulated:

'I was just a small child when my mother sent me to buy the razor blades for the great day of my so-called ‘purification’. […] [My] grandmother forced my legs open with her own. And there, without any sanitary assistance or any type of anaesthesia, the old lady mutilated me for the rest of my life! They chopped off my clitoris, cut my labia minora and majora, and then stitched everything together, sealing me. They used a needle and thread. […] Much later in life I came to learn that what they did to me was one of the worst of the four types of FGM that are practiced: infibulation. They left me a hole the size of a match for my bodily needs. The pain I felt was so intense that even today I cannot describe it. I tried to scream with all my strength, but I couldn't because they had put a rag in my mouth. According to my family it was shameful to hear the screaming-- a woman should not show her pain they told me. Finally, I got healed, or so I thought. What I did not know what that my nightmare had only just begun. I could go on… it's permanent damage, it's a mutilation.'

(Cited from Hilary Burrage, Female Mutilation: The Truth Behind the Horrifying Global Practice of Female Genital Mutilation, pp.26-27.)

Type 4: Includes Other Injuries to the Female Genitalia

This involves all other harmful strategies which are inflicted on the female genitalia for non-medical purposes: including pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterising the genital area.

FGM is, in most cases, perpetrated on girls and women without anaesthetic and using sharp tools including blades, knifes, razors, and sometimes fingernails. Usually, girls are mutilated in succession without the sharp tools being sterilised between mutilations, which can lead to severe infections and illnesses.

Ann Njambi, who underwent FGM at 15, shares her experience:

'I remember [the knife] was not sterilised and we went in turn. Afterwards I stayed in bed for a whole month and I bled a lot. It was done without anaesthesia. […] You are simply told you are are now mature—no longer a girl' and ‘“I feel […] as though I am not complete. It is like being an amputee of any other part of the body. FGM is a torture of unimaginable magnitude. You feel guilty. You have low esteem.”’

(Cited from Hilary Burrage, Female Mutilation, p.22.)

Hawa Sesay, an FGM survivor from Sierra Leone, says that

'The reality [of FGM] is that the pain is so intense you think you are dying'.

(Cited from Hilary Burrage, Female Mutilation, p.21.)

And so many girls and women do die from FGM, whether that is from the extent of the unbearable pain— and/or loss of blood— in the moment that FGM is perpetrated or as a result of severe infections or other complications that can develop from FGM having been perpetrated. FGM can cause extensive physical, psychological, and sexual complications for girls and women (the list of issues that it can cause is incredibly long and extends over many pages within Hilary Burrage’s book, Eradicating Female Genital Mutilation: A UK Perspective). The complications that come with FGM are not only produced during, and after, the moment that FGM is perpetrated upon girls and women but also affect girls and women physically, psychologically, and sexually for the rest of their lives.

In her book, Female Mutilation: The Truth Behind the Horrifying Global Practice of Female Genital Mutilation, FGM activist Hilary Burrage states that around ‘every eleven seconds a [female] baby, [girl], or young woman somewhere in the world undergoes a genital mutilation, […] by force and without pain relief’. FGM is mostly perpetrated in Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Pakistan and India. However, as Hilary Burrage clarifies, FGM is a ‘global epidemic’: it can occur anywhere— and it literally happens in every country— especially because of migration.

So many girls and women are told that they will be ‘pure’, or 'beautiful', or 'mature', or a 'woman' if they are mutilated or that it is a ‘religious/ cultural obligation’ for them to be mutilated. ‘Religion’, ‘culture’, ‘purity’, ‘beauty’, 'womanhood', 'maturity' are just a few examples of the many unfounded justifications and lies which have been made up and which are used as excuses to maintain and sugarcoat the existence of FGM.

In reality, FGM is simply just a patriarchal technique to violently inhibit female sexual pleasure and, at the same time, traumatise the female genitalia and the female brain as a strategy to sexually, physically, and psychologically repress girls and woman, in order to ensure the ascendency of patriarchy.

Let’s use Diem to help end FGM,

The Female Sex (Education)

If you want to learn more about the real life experiences of girls and women who have to live with the trauma of FGM, I highly recommend Hilary Burrage's incredibly powerful and deeply moving book:

You can click here to buy this book!


Hilary Burrage, Female Mutilation: The Truth Behind the Horrifying Global Practice of Female Genital Mutilation (London: New Holland Publishers, 2016).

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