What is FGM/C? Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting, or FGM/C for short, is a traditional practice that involves the cutting and partial or total removal of the female genitalia. It is an appalling practice that an estimated 140 million women and girls worldwide suffer from (1). This act is typically performed on young girls before the age of puberty with the most common reason for it being the belief that it will keep girls sexually pure and dissuade them from engaging in sexual relations before marriage. There are no health benefits to the procedure and in fact it can lead to chronic health problems over the span of the lives of those who have it done. It can cause severe pain during urination, menstruation, and sexual intercourse, and can lead to intense complications in childbirth leading to an increased risk in both infant and maternal deaths (2). Although there have been valiant efforts in the medical field to preform reconstructive surgeries for sufferers of FGM/C there is no way to completely restore a women’s quality of life to how it would have been if they had never experienced FGM/C (3). There is no way to “fix” the problem of FGM/C after it is preformed, so the only option for combating this issue is prevention.
While most people in the United States are generally aware of FGM/C or have at least heard of it very few seem to acknowledge the severity of it. There are even medical professionals who do not fully understand the procedure and are unprepared to address the issue with patients who have had it done. Some people even write it off as an “African problem” and not something that they, as American citizens, have reason to worry about. This is absolutely not true. FGM/C may be concentrated in Africa and the Middle East but this does not mean that it doesn’t happen elsewhere. At least 228,000 American women and girls are at risk of FGM/C each year, and the offhand attitude that dominates western culture on the matter means that little effort has ever been enacted to reduce this number (4).
For such a developed country it is shocking to note that the US congress did not pass a law to make Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting illegal until 1996 (5). Today, the major concern with FGM/C in the United States is the practice of what has come to be known as “vacation cutting”. This is where immigrant families will take their US born daughters on a vacation to their country of origin under the guise of visiting family or reconnecting with their homeland while the real purpose is to have their daughters cut. People may move away from places where FGM/C is common place but this does not mean that their culture and ideas on what is right change as well. Just because a girl is a US citizen does not mean that she is safe from her family’s cultural background and traditional practices such as FGM/C. FGM/C survivor Jaha Dukureh explained this best when she said “‘There is no way you should be born in America and still be worried about female genital mutilation,’ said Dukureh. ‘America is the land of the free. In this country girls are protected. But FGM is not something that is happening in a far away place, it is happening here to American girls. They may come from immigrant communities, that doesn’t make it acceptable’” (5).
It is due to the efforts of Dukureh and others similarly outraged by the lack of US laws and regulations on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting that we have begun to see a change in America’s attitude towards this issue as of late. However, it still wasn’t until last year, in 2013 that President Obama officially signed off on the law to make it illegal for girls to be taken out of the US for the purposes of receiving FGM/C (6).
While these improvements in laws against FGM/C in the United States are a step in the right direction, they are simply not enough. Making something illegal doesn’t stop it from happening. People who are devote in their cultural traditions are going to continue cutting their daughters whether there is a law against it or not. So the question is, how do we change this? How can we as individuals with little influence in the world work to stop the occurrence of FGM/C here on US soil and across the globe? Changing the deep rooted culture that leads people to perform FGM/C on girls will only come with time. However, we can make a difference by remaining informed and educated on the issue and making sure that others are aware of it as well. FGM/C is not only an African problem but a world problem. Inform others ignorant of FGM/C of its severity, because if we don’t act ourselves to get the word out and change the situation of FGM/C who will?
1) “Female genital mutilation and other harmful practices”. World Health Organization. 2014. http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/fgm/prevalence/en
2) “Female Genital Mutilation in the U.S. Factsheet”. Equality Now. http://www.equalitynow.org/sites/default/files/EN_FAQ_FGM_in_US.pdf
3) Khan, Saira. “Trying to Rebuild Women’s Bodies After Female ‘Circumcision’”. The Atlantic. May 27, 2014. http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/05/reversing-female-genital-mutilation/361540/2/
4) Topping, Alexandra. “FGM survivors: ‘It happens on US soil, but it happens in secret’”. The Guardian. May 13, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/may/13/fgm-american-survivors-girls-female-genital-mutilation
5) Topping, Alexandra. “American survivor of female genital mutilation calls on US to take action”. The Guardian. May 12, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/may/12/american-female-genital-mutilation-survivor-us-campaign
6) Roberts, Dan. “US Congress members join campaign calling for end to FGM”. The Guardian. June 13, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/jun/13/end-fgm-us-c50-congress-members-join-campaign