WHAT IS FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION (FGM)?

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is any procedure which removes part or all of a girl or woman’s external genitalia for non-medical reasons. It can also be known as female genital cutting or circumcision.

FGM can occur anytime from birth onwards, however it is most commonly done to girls when they are  between four  and ten years old.

FGM is often practiced seasonally, so the school holidays are when children are  most at risk. FGM  is often a cultural norm in the communities where it is practiced. The prevalence and type varies between communities even within the same country. However, not all families in FGM practising communities want their girls and women to undergo FGM. It is also important to note that not all women or girls know that they have had FGM performed on them.

Four Types of FGM

There are four types of FGM depending on how much tissue is cut or removed. Type III FGM is the most extreme version and it carries the most risk  for women during childbirth.  All types of FGM are a human rights violation and all have been illegal in Ireland since 2012.

Type I

Partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce. In medical literature this form of FGM/C is also referred to as ‘clitoridectomy’. A number of practising communities also refer to it as Sunna, which is Arabic for ‘tradition’ or ‘duty’.

Type II

This involves the partial or total removal of the clitoris and labia minora with or without excision of the labia majora. The 2007 WHO definition recognizes that although this form of cutting is more extensive than Type I, there is considerable variability in the form or degree of cutting. In English, this type of cutting is often referred to as ‘excision’, although it is important to note that in French the term ‘excision’ generally refers to all forms of FGM/C.

Type III

This involves the narrowing of the vaginal orifice by cutting and bringing together the labia minora and/or the labia majora to create a type of seal with or without excision of the clitoris. In most instances, the cut edges of the labia are stitched together, which is referred to as ‘infibulation’. The adhesion of the labia results in near complete covering of the urethra and the vaginal orifice, which must be reopened for sexual intercourse and childbirth, a procedure known as ‘de-infibulation’. In some instances, this is followed by re-infibulation.

Type IV

All other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, for example: pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterization. Pricking or nicking involves cutting to draw blood, but no removal of tissue and no permanent alteration of the external genitalia. This is sometimes called ‘symbolic circumcision’, and some communities have described it as a traditional form of FGM/C. Although symbolic circumcision is still highly controversial, it has been proposed as an alternative to more severe forms of cutting in both African and other countries where FGM/C is performed. I