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The first time I read about female genital mutilation–and understood what it really meant–was in a book called Ainsi soit-elle by French author and feminist Benoîte Groult. It shook me deeply. That book was published in 1975. Why have things changed so little since then? Drawing attention to the vulva also means drawing attention to the atrocities committed to female genitalia all over the world, every day, to control female sexuality in the name of tradition. 


More than 200 million women and girls alive now have undergone FGM. More than 4 million girls are estimated to be at risk for FGM every year, in communities in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and South America but also in many Western countries, where FGM is practiced among diaspora populations (an estimated 600,000 women living in Europe now have undergone FGM). 


The procedures carried out are the following: 

• CLITORIDECTOMY (FGM type I): Partially or totally removing the clitoris 

• EXCISION (FGM type II): Partially or totally removing the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without removal of the labia majora.

• INFIBULATION or pharaonic (FGM type III): Narrowing of the vaginal orifice with creation of a covering seal by cutting and appositioning the labia minora and/or labia majora, with or without removal of the clitoris. A small opening is left for urine and menstrual blood to escape. An infibulation must be opened either through penetrative sexual intercourse or surgery. It is often sown together again after childbirth (to make the woman “tight” for the husband) and also at the demand of a husband to ‘protect’ a wife while he is absent from the home.

• OTHER HARMFUL PROCEDURES to the female genitalia for non-medical reasons, for instance: pricking, piercing, incising, scraping tissues surround the vagina, cauterisation of the clitoris, labia stretching, introducing corrosive herbs into the vagina to cause bleeding and narrowing… (FGM type IV).


FGM is mostly carried out on young girls between infancy and age 15, with scissors, special knives, pieces of glass or razor blades. Anaesthetic and antiseptics are generally not used. Immediate consequences of FGM include severe pain and bleeding, shock, infections, difficulties in passing urine, injury to nearby genital tissue and death. The trauma and pain inflicted do not stop with the initial procedure but most often continues as ongoing torture throughout a woman’s life.  


Links to more information here.

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