What is female genital mutilation (FGM)?
Female genital mutilation (also known as FGM) is a procedure that involves the removal or cutting of any part of female genitalia. It’s definitely a hard topic to talk about, but learning about FGM is important if we want to help fight it.
FGM is not a topic that tends to come up in casual conversations, whether that be in the classroom, at home or over lunch with friends. However, just because it’s not an easy or light topic to talk about, it does not mean that we should dismiss the subject altogether – understanding these more serious and devastating issues is what ultimately helps spread much needed awareness.
According to the World Health Organisation, FGM specifically refers to all procedures that involve partial/total removal or other injury to the vulva (labia, clitoris and vaginal opening) for non-medical reasons. 
FGM is predominantly recognised across the globe as a gross violation of human rights as well as being a violent act of discrimination towards women. It is estimated that around 200 million girls and women alive today have experienced some form of FGM, with the large majority originating from countries in Asia, the Middle East and Africa (where the practice of FGM is most concentrated). 
Keep reading if you want to find out more about FGM as well as what you can do to help...
What are the types of FGM?
Within the practice of FGM, it is largely recognised that there are four different types, each involving some form of removal or injury to the vulva. However, none of these four types of FGM are considered to be either less painful or more acceptable – it’s just a way of classifying the technical differences between FGM practices. According to The End FGM European Network , the 4 different types are:
Type 1: clitoridectomy
This first type of FGM involves the partial or total removal of the clitoris.
Type 2: excision
For Type 2, otherwise known as “excision”, the clitoris is again partially or totally removed as well as the inner labia. On top of this, the outer labia are sometimes removed too.
Type 3: infibulation
Infibulation refers to the process of narrowing the vaginal opening itself. This is achieved by cutting and repositioning the labia to create a seal.
The fourth type of FGM refers to any other physical infliction to the vulva for non-medical purposes. This could include; pricking, piercing, cutting, scraping or burning any part of the vulva.
Why is FGM practiced in some countries?
Even though FGM is completely illegal in most parts of the world, it is unfortunately still performed in some countries due to a variety of cultural, religious or social beliefs. It is even said within some communities that FGM is a rite of passage for girls as a way of preparing them for adulthood and marriage. There is also a school of thought which considers a woman to be “dirty” or “manly” before having undergone FGM. 
These are only some of the many justifications for why this invasive procedure is carried out. However, it’s crucial to recognise that none of them are valid (or even true) reasons for practicing what can only be called a forced act of violence against women, given the complete lack of medical reasoning behind it.
What are the effects of FGM?
As we said, the practice of FGM is not intended to provide health benefits. Instead, it can actually cause serious harm to the victim, which is yet another reason to stand up against it. As you can imagine, the removal of any part of the vulva is an extremely painful process, especially when paired with the emotional implications of having such an intimate part of our body altered by force.
FGM can have incredibly damaging and lasting physical effects on the body. Some of these include genital tissue swelling, pain when having sex, excessive bleeding, painful and prolonged periods, constant infections (which can lead to infertility), urinary problems, complications during childbirth and in some cases, even death. 
It’s also then unsurprising that FGM can cause an array of emotional issues too, such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, flashbacks to the time of cutting, problems sleeping and low self-esteem.
As you can see, the consequences of FGM are brutal and sometimes, even fatal. These physical and emotional effects are not something that should be endured by anyone, especially vulnerable girls who are often minors and that have been forced to undergo FGM. Even though it may be hard and upsetting to see the list of crippling effects that FGM can have on a person, there are still things we can do to help protect future generations.
What can you do to help fight against FGM?
Learning about these unsettling acts of violence that take place across the world may leave you feeling frustrated. It also may get you thinking not only about what is currently being done to help prevent FGM on a global scale, but also what you personally can do to help stop this inhumane procedure.
If you do want to get involved, there are plenty of resources out there through which you can start taking action from today! For example, global campaigns such as the UN’s “End FGM” act have published official material which you can share on your social media channels to help spread the word and open up a conversation around FGM. There is also a pledge you can sign on within the United Nation’s Population Fund, to strengthen the push to eliminate female genital mutilation altogether.
And if you are worried that you may be at risk from FGM, it’s important for you to pay attention to any warning signs. For instance, if you’ve recently started your period, or your heritage is of a place where FGM is practised and your family are planning on taking you to visit this country. If you do spot any of these signs, keep in mind that there are helplines dedicated to getting you the help you need.
Also, don't hesitate to reach out to these organizations for ongoing support if you're an FGM survivor.
Opening up dialogue surrounding any issues related to our V-Zones will shed light on their importance and help to fight against them. Encouraging others to speak out will also aid to destigmatise our most intimate experiences and diminish any associated shame. Who knows, just by taking a stand against FGM, you could help someone gather the courage to share their experience.
The medical information in this article is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. Please consult your doctor for guidance about a specific medical condition.
 Sakeah, Evelyn et al. “Persistent female genital mutilation despite its illegality: Narratives from women and men in northern Ghana.” PloS one vol. 14,4 e0214923. 22 Apr. 2019, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0214923