By A.M. Peabody
Female genital mutilation, more commonly known as FGM, female circumcision or even female genital cutting is the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia for non-medical reasons. External genitals include the clitoris, the labia, the pubis (the fatty issue over the pubic bone), and the urethral and vaginal openings. The clitoris is the small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals.
Over the years, there have been debates over an acceptable name to call the practice of removing all or parts of the female genitalia. To quote a survivor of the practice, “Regardless of what it is called, it is what it is. No sugar-coated name can erase what was done to me when I was five years old.” Many women who are survivors of the practice become offended if someone refers to it as “cutting” or “circumcision”. They feel that those words tend to lessen the magnitude of what they suffered so many years ago or what little girls continue to suffer daily around the world.
The traditional type of FGM, known as the Sunna Circumcision consists of the removal of the retractable fold of the skin and the tip of the clitoris. Ninety-seven (97%) of Egyptian girls undergo the Sunna Circumcision. In some West African countries, the tip of the clitoris is removed.
The Clitoridectomy type consists of the excision of the clitoris in its entirety and the removal of the adjacent labia. It is usually performed as part of female initiation rites, mainly among certain African ethnic groups, but also sometimes used in various societies to curb sexual desire. It was also known as the 20th century solution to preventing masturbation among girls.
The Infibulation type, known as the Pharonic Circumcision consists of performing a Clitoridectomy and the removal of all or part of the labia minora and the labia majora. During this type, whatever skin is left is usually stitched up, allowing only a small hole to accommodate urine and menstrual blood flow. In some cultures, the Infibulation type consists of the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and sewing over the outer labia, with or without removal of the clitoris or inner labia. This type is extremely painful and distressing to the girl. It damages the sexually sensitive skin and causes an on-going infection risks. The closing over of the vagina and the urethra leaves women with a very small opening through which to pass urine and menstrual fluid. Some women can take up to half an hour for a single urination due to the small opening. The opening can be so small that it needs to be cut open to be able to have sexual intercourse. Cutting is also needed to give birth and can cause major health complications that can result in maternal and infant mortalities.
The fourth type includes Different Practices of variable severity including pricking, piercing or incision of the clitoris and/or the labia. This type also consists of stretching of the clitoris and/or the labia, cauterization of the clitoris and scraping or introduction of corrosive substances into the vagina.
Whether it is the Sunna type, the Clitoridectomy, the Infibulation or pricking, piercing or stretching, does it really matter what it is called? Does referring to it as female genital cutting or female circumcision make it any less harmful to the little girls that endure the physical and psychological pain? It is easy to be politically or socially correct by referring to the practice as something less alarming; however the purpose of the discussion is the goal to end the practice, and spare the lives of millions of little girls. Let us not divert our attention from the atrocity of this practice to what it should be called. Let us focus on how to end the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM); yes, female genital mutilation.