Female Genital Mutilation: Numbers Rise By 70 million In 2016

A new UNICEF report on FGM has revealed the disturbing news that 200 million women and girls in 30 countries have been victim of female genital mutilation (FGM), a number significantly higher than the 2014 reports of 130 million. This 70 million increase is almost all credited to new data collected in Indonesia. Although, given the difficulty of accumulating precise reports, the number of victims is likely to be much higher still.

(Photo credit: Adek Berry/The New Yorker)

FGM is a term used to describe all procedures that involve partial or total removal of external female genitalia, or purposeful injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. Degrees of FGM vary in severity and are classified into four major types ranging from a Clitoridectomy (partial or total removal of the clitoris) to Infibulation (the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal).  Although, sometimes outrageously compared to the common practice of male circumcision, FGM has been banned worldwide by the United Nations Assembly since December 2012: "All necessary measures including enacting and enforcing legislation (must be taken) to prohibit FGM and to protect women and girls from this form of violence, and to end impunity." The resolution demonstrates that, far from being akin to male circumcision, FGM is a form of widespread and systematic violation of human rights. Not only is FGM a harrowing reflection of the belief that a woman should not be in charge of her own sexuality, but the physical risks include infection, haemorrhage, scarring, sexual dysfunction, urinary and reproductive problems, childbirth complications, and can result in death. Mental effects such as depression and self-loathing have been reported amongst those who had undergone the procedure.

This report, including new information from Indonesia, Malaysia, India, the United Arab Emirates and Oman, challenges the widely-held thought that FGM is a "single-continent issue." Claudia Cappa who is the lead author of the new UNICEF report, told The New Yorker that "The geographic centre is now shifting… It’s not just concentrated in Africa, as was long believed. There’s now recognition that the practice is global." The New Yorker draws attention to the fact that over 500 000 girls and women in America have also either undergone FGM already or are at a high risk to do so. The widespread nature of FGM not only contests the notion that it is a practice restricted to one area, but also demonstrates that it is not tied to any one religion; FGM is an ancient cultural practice that existed before Islam, Christianity and Judaism.

In 2012, the Guardian published an extremely harrowing article in which the author, Abigail Haworth, describes her experience of attending a mass practice of FGM in 2006. Haworth describes the happy and festive atmosphere within the school building in Bandung, Indonesia, where 248 girls underwent FGM that day. In the article’s descriptions of the experience, what is most apparent is the clear lack of education on the practice. Haworth relays conversations she had with the midwives who were performing the practice, mothers who had brought their daughters to be cut, and the young girls themselves. Most of which communicate the same misconception that the practice is in the girls’ interests: "it balances their emotions so they don’t get sexually over-stimulated… it also helps them to urinate more easily and reduces the bad smell." What also comes across in the article is an overwhelming sense of tradition, the talking of mothers and grandmothers suggests that the practice is something that is just done; a matter of procedure, and any information on the effects and reasons for it appear anecdotal, and prove false.

Alongside the increase of 70 million girls and women subjected to FGM, the new UNICEF report promisingly recounts that there had been "an overall decline in the prevalence of FGM over the last three decades’ and countries such as Kenya, Egypt, Burkina, Faso, Liberia, and Togo have seen a dramatic decrease in numbers." However, considering that 10 million women and girls out of the 70 million increase, were comprised from population growth in countries where the practice has continued, it is frighteningly apparent that "current progress is insufficient to keep up with increasing population growth."