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FGC: an Introduction

maart 7, 2024 . dija

Today we want to discuss a delicate topic. Every girl deserves to grow up safe, healthy, and empowered. Yet, millions of girls around the world are subjected to Female Genital Cutting (FGC), also known as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). It involves the partial or total removal of external female genitalia and includes other injury to female genital organs. This practice is predominantly carried out on young girls, even infants, however, more commonly it takes place between the ages of 4 and 15.  

The Different Types of FGC 

There are four different types of Female Genital Cutting (FGC), and each category is based on the extent of tissue removal. Type 1 involves the partial or total removal of the clitoral glans and/or the clitoral hood, while Type 2 entails the partial or total removal of the inner and/or outer labia. Type 3, known as infibulation, is the most severe form, involving the removal of the external genitalia and fusion of the wound. The fourth type encompasses any other harmful procedure performed on female genitalia for non-medical purposes. 

The Consequences of FGC 

As one can imagine, FGC can have severe consequences. This practice has no medical benefits and can cause lifelong physical and psychological harm. By removing and damaging healthy genital tissue it compromises the natural function of the bodies affected. Short-term complications include severe pain, urine retention, infections (of the wound itself, or other infections caused by unsanitary medical conditions), fever, shock, and even death. FGC can lead to various long-term complications, including urinary, vaginal, and sexual problems, as well as menstrual irregularities and painful menstruations (Berg & Underland, 2014). Type 3 FGC can obstruct the passage of menstrual fluid and cause inflammation of the uterine lining, leading to fertility issues and childbirth complications. In addition to the numerous health issues, FGC can also trigger psychological problems such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, low self-esteem, and negatively impact sexual health. 

Factors Driving FGC 

We have covered different aspects of FGC, however one question persists: why is FGC still practiced? The answer lies within the cultural contexts surrounding it. In certain cultures, FGC is perceived as a rite of passage, while in others, it is used to suppress the sexuality of girls and ensure their chastity. In regions where FGC is most prevalent, some communities consider it a prerequisite for marriage or inheritance, a means to demonstrate a girl’s chastity and upbringing. These deeply ingrained cultural beliefs, coupled with the social status associated with FGC, cause significant challenges to its eradication. Moreover, local power structures, including community leaders, religious figures, and women who perform FGC, further complicate efforts to eliminate this harmful tradition. 

FGC in The Netherlands  

The exact prevalence of Female Genital Cutting (FGC) worldwide is unknown; however, it is estimated that at least 200 million girls and women across 31 different countries have been subjected to this practice (World Health Organization, 2024). It predominantly occurs in western, eastern, and northeastern regions of Africa, as well as in some countries in the Middle East and Asia. In the Netherlands, FGC is illegal; however, it persists. A small study conducted in 2013 indicated that between 40 and 50 girls are at risk of FGC annually in The Netherlands. Another study conducted in 2018 by the Erasmus University Medical Center revealed that an estimated 41,000 women living in the Netherlands have undergone FGC (Pharos, 2020). 

To prevent the continuation of this practice, several initiatives have been established by the Dutch government and other organizations, including training courses for social workers and educational programs targeting at-risk groups. For instance, Pharos provides training courses for social workers, supported by the Ministry of Health, Welfare, and Sport (VWS), to equip professionals with the knowledge to recognize and address FGC. Pharos has also established a youth group called No Game aimed at educating young people through presentations. Additionally, the VWS funds the Federation of Somali Associations in the Netherlands (FSAN), which focuses on educating at-risk groups about the harms of FGC (Ministerie van Algemene Zaken, 2016). 

In closing, the physical and psychological harm caused by FGC is undeniable, and the cultural and social complexities surrounding this practice make its eradication challenging. However, initiatives like those in the Netherlands, providing training for social workers and educating at-risk groups, offer hope for change. Awareness, education, and support are crucial in ending FGC. 

Links to donate to help support organizations:  

https://www.endfgm.eu/what-can-you-do/donate/

https://secured.terredeshommes.nl/donation

https://www.unicefusa.org/stories/what-fgm

Here are some links if you are interested in learning more about FGC!  

In The NL: 

https://www.pharos.nl/english/female-genital-mutilation/what-is-female-genital-mutilation/

https://www.kit.nl/fgm-c-what-next-towards-elimination/  

EU/Globally:  

https://www.unicef.org/protection/female-genital-mutilation

https://www.who.int/health-topics/female-genital-mutilation#tab=tab_1

Bibliography 

Berg, R. C., & Underland, V. (2014). Gynecological Consequences of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C). Knowledge Centre for the Health Services at The Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH). 

Ministerie van Algemene Zaken. (2016, June 8). Stopping female genital mutilation. Child abuse | Government.nl. https://www.government.nl/topics/child-abuse/stopping-female-genital-mutilation  

van der Kwaak , A. (2022, February 6). FGM/c: What next towards elimination?. KIT Royal Tropical Institute. https://www.kit.nl/fgm-c-what-next-towards-elimination/  

What is female genital mutilation?. Pharos. (2020, August 10). https://www.pharos.nl/english/female-genital-mutilation/what-is-female-genital-mutilation/  

What is female genital mutilation?. UNICEF. (n.d.). https://www.unicef.org/protection/female-genital-mutilation  

What is FGM?. End FGM. (n.d.). https://www.endfgm.eu/female-genital-mutilation/what-is-fgm/  

World Health Organization. (2024, February 5). Female genital mutilation. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/female-genital-mutilation#:~:text=Overview,organs%20for%20non%2Dmedical%20reasons

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