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Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” (World Health Organization). Female Genital mutilation is also sometimes known as ‘cutting’ or ‘female circumcision’.
FGM has no health benefits and involves damaging healthy female genital tissue and can cause short-term and long-term physical and psychological damage. It can cause severe bleeding and problems with urinating and menstruating. It also increases risks of infections and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and can cause complications in pregnancy and childbirth.
The origin of FGM is complex and it has not been clearly established. However, it is known that FGM predates both Christianity and Islam and it is not condoned by any religion.
There are many different reasons why FGM is continued and these can be categorised under five main headings:
FGM is carried out as a means to control women’s sexuality; to ensure chastity. It is thought to ensure virginity before and fidelity after marriage and it is believed to increase male sexual pleasure. It is also mistakenly believed by some to enhance fertility after marriage.
FGM is seen as part of initiation into womanhood and as a natural part of a community’s cultural heritage and tradition. It provides the girl with a sense of belonging and is seen as intrinsically linked to a family’s honour and standing in the community.
In some communities, the female genitalia is considered to be dirty and/or ugly. FGM is therefore carried out to promote both cleanliness and aesthetic appeal.
Although FGM is not sanctioned by any major religion, religion is often used to justify it.
In many communities, FGM is necessary for marriage. Where women are financially dependent on men, economics can be a determining factor. FGM may also be a major income source for practitioners.
Yes, FGM is illegal in the UK. The Female Genital Mutilation Act was introduced in 2003 and came into force in 2004. The act replaced the earlier Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act (1985) and applied in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The Female Genital Mutilation Act (2003):
The penalty for FGM is up to 14 years imprisonment and/or a fine on conviction on Indictment; and up to six months imprisonment and/or a fine (not exceeding the statutory maximum) on summary conviction.
Concerns have been raised that there is an extraterritorial loophole in the legislation, which means that habitual residents are not covered.
The Government has introduced proposals for a civil protection order to close this gap, which is going through Parliament now. Find out more about the Serious Crime Bill on the Parliament website.
If you are in immediate risk call 999 or 112 (from a mobile) for the Police.
Local Support Services
National/London Support Services
Health Passports Statement opposing female genital mutilation and information produced by the Home Office for those at risk of FGM are available in a variety of community languages from the VAWG Team at: firstname.lastname@example.org