It’s a potentially lethal practice that has been going on for generations, mainly in Africa, but also in the Middle East and Asia.
At least 200 million girls and women in 30 countries are estimated to have undergone female genital mutilation, or FGM.
In the UK, FGM is illegal. The exact scale of those affected is unknown – due to its hidden nature. But the British government estimates at least 170,000 women and girls are living with the consequences of having the procedure – and a further 65,000 girls under the age of 13 are at risk.
There are reports of a black market in the UK. Police also suspect girls are flown out of the country to their family homelands for FGM.
Campaigners say the key to eradicating the practice – treated as criminal abuse in the UK – is education.
What is FGM?
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is defined as a procedure where genitals are cut, injured or changed – and there is no medical justification.
Some refer to it as “female circumcision” or “cutting.”
Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) defines four main types of FGM:
Type 1 (clitoridectomy) – removing part or all of the clitoris
Type 2 (excision) – removing part or all of the clitoris and the inner labia (lips that surround the vagina), with or without removal of the labia majora (larger outer lips)
Type 3 (infibulation) – narrowing of the vaginal opening by creating a seal, formed by cutting and repositioning the labia
Other harmful procedures to the female genitals, including pricking, piercing, cutting, scraping or burning the area.
‘It’s not in any of the holy books’
“I was forcefully pinned down, my legs were spread apart and I felt a sharp cut between my legs. And, at this time, I did not even know what they were cutting, I just knew they were cutting something off my private part,” recalled Sarian Karim Kamare, who underwent FGM in her homeland of Sierra Leone at the age of 11, before moving to the UK.
“It was shocking for me because that was the least (last) thing to come to my mind, that sort (of) violence would happen to me and organised by my own family.”
Sarian, a Christian, says she was blindfolded at a party and, without any sort of anesthetic, her clitoris was removed with a knife.
“They just do that because they feel that I need to be part of the culture and I need to be totally accepted within my community,” she told insiders
“It’s not in any of the holy books. It’s just a cultural practice, a bad practice that was adopted. It’s just to subject women to so much harm, it’s a way of controlling women, especially your sexual urge.
“And it does work, trust me, because once that’s been taken away, it really, really destroys your sexual appetite and things like that.”
English health services have newly recorded the equivalent of 100 FGM cases a week since April last year, when new data collection requirements came into effect.
They are just the ones they know about, and the ones they have reported.
Doctor Brenda Kelly, a Consultant Obstetrician, founded the Rose Clinic at Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital for patients affected by FGM.
She told insiders that it can cause lifelong health problems.
“If it’s a child, they may have pain, bleeding and infection. But the majority of patients that I see are women in adulthood, who have lived through the consequences of it happening. But may also have difficulty passing urine, passing their period blood, having sexual relations with their husband or partner,” explained Kelly.
“A significant number of women have lasting psychological, psycho-sexual consequences of FGM, including a significant number, about one in six, having post-traumatic stress disorder or symptoms suggestive of that.”
The ‘cutting season’
Campaigners say elderly women – typically those who perform FGM – are flown into the UK for the black market.
Police also suspect young girls are taken to family homelands during the school summer holidays, the so-called “cutting season.”
Earlier this year, West Midlands police stop checked families and individuals at Birmingham airport during an operation against FGM.
‘Am I not a Muslim?’
“My dad’s plans were to get me married via Skype and get me circumcised before or after, soon (after) my marriage, before any sexual intercourses with my husband. And the reason why they told me I had to be circumcised was that you’re not a good Muslim,” said “Zara,” whose identity is being protected.
“And then it made me question all sorts of things to (about) myself. Am I not a Muslim?”
“Zara,” who was raised in England, came under huge pressure from her Asian father to have an arranged marriage and FGM. It was almost too much to bear.
“There were some days when I would just sit there and think wouldn’t it be better if I just not stay, or live any more,” she told insiders
So many women and girls, like Zara, often suffer in silence, both in the UK and elsewhere. They’re terrified of going against their family and their communities.
But Zara was eventually saved from her father’s plans. She spoke out and the police got involved.
A joint FGM and Forced Marriage Protection Order was issued, meaning anyone who pressures Zara will go before the courts.
Zara’s father also faced the prospect of criminal charges, but she told insiders that she couldn’t go through with them.
“I want to give a message. At the same time, I want to have a life too. I don’t want to lose my dad, cos (because) he’s been there for me throughout my life, being my best friend, would listen to me with everything,” she said.
“And I lost my mum’s contact at a very young age. She had some really bad mental problems. So he’s the only person I would just run up to and talk to. So I didn’t want to lose that.”
Karyne Tazi works for the Women and Families Resource Centre in Wolverhampton, central England – a charity which works with communities to eradicate FGM:
She says it is all about educating mothers who have undergone it themselves.
“A lot of the time it’s about changing these women’s mindset, challenging the way they think and making sure that this doesn’t pass down to the next generation,” she said.
“Because these women are probably the ones who are going to be having it done to their daughters and so it’s about showing them that this is a form of abuse and it’s illegal.”
Charities also take their education drive to schools in the UK.
FGM has been illegal in Britain for over 30 years and parents can be charged if they take their children abroad for it.
But despite a tightening of the laws, there has not been a single conviction for FGM in England and Wales to date.
“Some of the difficulties surrounding that are we have immigrant populations, where English is not necessarily their first language, and it’s the women’s place within those societies as well, isn’t to stand up and speak out. These are very personal issues that quite a lot of these women haven’t even spoken to their children about,” said Inspector Wendy Bird, from West Midlands Police.
“What it does, the legislation, when people know about it, it helps empower victims to be able to say no, it helps empower parents to say to the community back home or the communities here, no it’s not acceptable, it’s against the law, if we do this, we will be prosecuted.”
‘I was helpless… Now, I have more power’
“Zara” told insiders that women and girls must find the confidence to speak up.
“Back then, I was helpless, I was thinking that I won’t have a life and I was thinking I might end up being a slave to some man. But now I’ve been taught what I could do and couldn’t do, what, I would say, could do. I feel like I have more power,” she said.
“The message I would say is that it might feel really hard to come out and speak against their family, but at the end, it will be a beautiful message to them, a beautiful life they’ve been given.”
Euronews journalist Damon Embling answered your questions about FGM. Watch his responses below
Euronews' Damon Embling discusses female genital mutilation, FGM, in Europe.
Send your questions in the comments below.Posted by euronews on Monday, 24 October 2016
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