What is FGM/C?
Female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) is “any partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or any other injury of the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”1
Girls are typically cut anytime between birth and 15 years of age, but the practice may happen in adulthood as well.”1 FGM/C is practiced predominantly in Africa and in some pockets of Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America.1,2 In these countries, both traditional practitioners and birth attendants, as well as professional health care providers, perform the cutting.3,4
FGM/C is a cultural practice that predates Abrahamic religions, although some proponents claim it is rooted in religion.2 Different cultures use different words to describe the procedure. This toolkit only utilizes the term "female genital mutilation/cutting" rather than other terminology.
Types of FGM/C
The World Health Organization classifies FGM/C into four types, all of which are harmful for women and girls.1
- Type 1: Clitoridectomy refers to the partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce.
- Type 2: Excision is when the clitoris and/or the labia minora are removed.
- Type 3: Infibulation occurs when the vaginal opening is sealed by cutting and repositioning the labia minora and/or the labia majora, with or without the excision of the clitoris.
- Type 4: All other damaging procedures done to female genitalia for non-medical reasons (e.g., pricking, piercing, incising, scraping, cauterization).
Trigger warning: When clicking below, illustrations of the 4 types of FGM/C will appear and may be emotionally difficult for some people. Please take care when viewing.
Illustration of the 4 types of FGM/C
Type 1: Clitoridectomy refers to the partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce.
Type 2: Excision is when the clitoris and/or the labia minora are removed.
Type 3: Infibulation occurs when the vaginal opening is sealed by cutting and repositioning the labia minora and/or the labia majora, with or without the excision of the clitoris.
Type 4: All other damaging procedures done to female genitalia for nonmedical reasons (e.g., pricking, piercing, incising, scraping, cauterization)
Health effects of FGM/C
FGM/C does not have any health benefits and instead has been noted to cause numerous negative health complications for many girls and women.1 FGM/C carries short and long-term effects to physical, mental, and sexual health.1 Young girls and women may experience more than one of the health complications below.
- Severe pain3,5,6,7
- Excessive bleeding3,5,6,7
- Bacterial or viral infection 3,5,6
- Injury to surrounding area3,5,6
- Not being able to urinate3,5,7
- Chronic vaginal and pelvic infections3,5,6,7,11
- Continued difficulties with urination (or completely emptying bladder)3,5,6,7,12
- Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) 5,8,9,13,14
- Pain or lack of pleasure during sex3,5,7,12
- Infertility due to chronic infections612
Why does FGM/C continue?
There are many reasons that FGM/C continues to happen around the world, though it is often a result of deep gender inequity.1,15 Unfortunately, in some communities, females who have not undergone FGM/C may face harassment or rejection for acting against their culture.15
Some beliefs, whether accurate or not, used to uphold the practice are rooted in culture:
|Controlling women's sexuality before marriage*,2,15,16||Increasing women's marriage options2,15,16|
|Supporting women's hygiene and aesthetic appeal*,2,15,16||Initiation into womanhood2,15,16|
|Increasing male sexual enjoyment2,15,16||Belief that it is a religious requirement2,15,16|
* Interviews conducted with faith leaders in Fall 2020.
To read more about FGM/C and its connection to religion, visit our Faith Leader Toolkit here.
Prevalence of FGM/C in the U.S.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that over 500,000 women and girls are either at risk or have experienced FGM/C here in the U.S.17,18 Specifically, the D.C.- Maryland- Virginia (DMV) metropolitan area is estimated to have the second highest number of women (51,411), which is almost equal to 10% of women who are at risk or have experienced FGM/C across the U.S.19
Is FGM/C illegal in the U.S.?
It is a federal crime to practice FGM/C in the US or to transport a minor to a foreign country for FGM/C (e.g. vacation cutting). While there has been a federal law in place since 1996 criminalizing FGM/C, as of January 5, 2021 this law has now been replaced by an updated version, after the passage of the STOP FGM Act 2020 (HR 6100).20,21 This new law further strengthens protections for women and girls. Some states also have more specific laws against FGM/C, with others like D.C. having proposed legislation in progress.22 To read more about FGM/C laws for each state in the U.S., visit Equality Now.
Download our informational factsheet for a general overview of FGM/C in the U.S.