Female genital mutilation (FMG) is a common practice in a number of African countries. Commonly known as female genital cutting or female circumcision, FMG is the ritual removal of some or all of the external female genitalia.
According to UNICEF, while the exact number of girls and women worldwide who have undergone FMG remains unknown, some estimates suggest that at least 200 million girls in 30 countries have been subjected to the practice.
A country based survey, which focused on the rates of FGM, indicates that this practice is not only carried out in African countries but also includes Indonesia, Iraqi, Kurdistan, and Yemen. The study further indicated that the rate of the practice is 80–98 percent within the 15–49 age group in Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Guinea, Mali, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Sudan.
A representative of the End FMG European Network, Natalie Kontoulis, affirmed that this practice is prevalent in European countries as well.
“With globalization and migration, FGM is now practiced across all continents and certainly [practiced] in Europe, the USA, and Australia,” Kontoulis explained.
“In Europe, we believe around 500,000 women and girls have undergone FGM, with around 180,000 at risk every year. Those figures are underestimated, because of a lack of common methodologies when collecting data across Europe.”
Kontoulis says that the population in each country is dependent on the migrant communities. In Belgium and France, there are migrant communities from Guinea, Senegal, and Mali as some of the prime populations affected.
“Often those who are at risk of being cut are the second and third generation, meaning they are European-born and raised in Europe, with European passports. Often families cut them during holidays back home in the country of origin, or even within Europe itself. They sometimes believe it is a way of preserving their traditions and link themselves to their countries of origin,” Kontoulis continued.
Female circumcision is seen to be culturally important to many women and some men. The most common argument for circumcision is that it is a necessary ritual for the transition from childhood to adulthood, through which young women learn their forthcoming roles and responsibilities.
Kontoulis adds that FGM is carried out for varied reasons and each community has its own reasons for doing so.
“That makes it difficult to stop too because there is not one homogeneous group in Europe. Each family has its own reasons, which ranges from; health, believing the girl cannot become a woman if she is not cut, that she will not be able to give birth (FGM, in fact, complicates birth massively), to believing a woman will be sex-crazed if she is not cut and so to make her marriageable, they have to do it.”
“Families here come under a lot of pressure from their families back home in Africa, Indonesia, and Thailand, to cut their daughters and to prove that they have not become too westernised – that is an issue we see too,” Kontoulis explained.
Even though FMG affects so many females around the world, UNICEF has noted that the number of females affected by it is declining. Yet, not all countries have made progress and the pace of decline has been uneven.
VOC (Umarah Hartley)