Female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM/C) is a human rights violation that happens every day across the globe.
According to the World Health Organization, FGM/C “comprises of all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs, for non-medical reasons.” FGM/C is performed without anesthesia, and often involves mothers and other women in the community to restrain the children.
FGM/C is an extreme form of discrimination against women, as it constitutes both physical and psychological abuse. It’s also a violation of children’s rights. FGM/C is usually carried out on minors — often 4 to 12 years old — but it can sometimes be forced upon infants and older girls. It also violates their “rights to health, security and physical integrity … the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” according to the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights.
FGM/C is often presented as a third-world issue only, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Even though the statistics are difficult to unveil, it is estimated that roughly half a million women and girls are at risk for cutting in the U.S. alone. That’s 18,150 in Columbus, Ohio; and 35,000 in Bloomington, Indiana, according a 2015 study conducted by the Population Reference Bureau.
The number of at-risk women and girls in the U.S. does not correspond to the number of girls that are cut on U.S. soil. This is due to vacation cutting — a trend where young girls are taken overseas with family for the sole purpose of being cut, often during summer vacation.
There are three different types of cutting. Type 1 is the least extreme (only cutting the clitoris), and type 3 is the most extreme (narrowing the vaginal opening by creating a covering seal). This leads to many psychological consequences and even chronic physical issues — some women require opening before their first intercourse, and some traditions require re-closure following the birth of a child. Immediate physical issues can include infections, transmission of STIs, shock and even death.
Even though FGM/C was outlawed in the U.S. in 1996, there are few laws that actually protect survivors. Only 26 states have statutes and three more are pending, which consist of the mandatory reporting of child abuse. In 2013, former President Obama enacted a law that made the transportation of minors for FGM/C a federal crime. However, there are many limitations of the legal approach. It does not account for social constraints. Survivors aren’t protected under current laws, and the “doctors” performing the procedures can’t be prosecuted, either. However, there is a pending federal prosecution against a physician in the state of Michigan. We should all care about female genital mutilation, because women everywhere are being tortured against their will and dying as a result of botched procedures.