An estimated 92 million females in Africa aged 10 and above have experienced some form of genital cutting. The procedures vary across the African continent and in the Middle East and parts of Asia where the practice has gone on for millenia. The World Health Organization classifies female genital cutting into four major types:
- Clitoridectomy: partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals) and, in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).
- Excision: partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (the labia are “the lips” that surround the vagina).
- Infibulation: narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the inner, or outer, labia, with or without removal of the clitoris.
- Other: all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.
In most societies where it is practiced it is associated with concepts of femininity and modesty. These ideas and the beliefs that it is religiously authorized and sanctioned have made it difficult to eradicate. The procedure generally is performed on minors. There are no health benefits from it, and since it involves the removal of healthy and normal female genital tissue, it can interfere with the natural functions of females’ bodies and cause severe and long-term health problems.
The article linked below discusses the success of a movement that is rapidly spreading in Senegal to end this ancient practice.