The global scale of female genital mutilation (FGM/C) is estimated to be more than 200 million girls and women in more than 30 countries, with an average estimated 3 million girls at risk. This is a chance to undergo FGM/C each year despite a global commitment to end FGM/C.
The practice is widespread globally, stretching from West Africa, North, East, Central and Central East and Asia, and South America, with the greatest burden and concentration of FGM/C in Africa.
In addition, the practice has taken on a global dimension by spreading to non-traditional countries, spurred on by the migration and asylum claims of people from marginalised communities, who move followed this practice to their new host countries, which made FGM/C popular in Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand.
A recent systematic review of national, regional and community-based studies of factors associated with FGM/C found low levels of maternal education and a family history of FGM/C-risk factors.
Additionally, female circumcision is unhealthy and harms girls and women in many ways. This practice removes and damages the healthy, normal tissue of the female genital organs, interfering with the natural bodily functions of girls and women.
This can lead to immediate health risks and many long-term complications that affect a woman’s physical, mental, and sexual health and well-being. There are major health risks associated with female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), which can be painful urination due to urethral obstruction and recurrent urinary tract infections.
Vaginal discharge problems, itching, bacterial vaginosis and other infections; Other causes include a blockage of the vaginal opening, which can lead to dysmenorrhea (dysmenorrhea), irregular periods, and dysmenorrhea, especially in women with type III FGM. Excessive scar tissue can also form at the site of the cut.
Since Human ImmunoDeficiency Virus transmission is easier because pain to the vaginal epithelium allows direct entry of the virus, it is reasonable to assume that the risk of HIV transmission may be increased by an increased risk of bleeding during sex. It further damages anatomical structures directly related to a girl and woman’s sexual function and thus can also affect a woman’s sexual health and well-being.
Other issues are complications during childbirth (obstetric complications), associated with an increased risk of caesarean delivery, postpartum haemorrhage, need for episiotomy, difficult labour, obstetric lacerations/tears, prolonged labour, and prolonged labour maternal hospitalisation. A direct link between FGM and obstetric fistula has not been established.
However, given the causal relationship between prolonged and obstructive labour and fistula and that FGM/C is also associated with prolonged and obstructive labour, it is reasonable to assume that these two conditions may be related to women living with FGM. Obstetric complications increase neonatal resuscitation at birth and may result in stillbirth and neonatal death during delivery. All these are medical conditions associated with female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) related in some ways to the psychological outcome of these dangerous acts.
Major associated psychological challenges
The root causes of female genital mutilation/cutting practices among certain African countries are diverse and multifaceted, including gender inequality, widespread social norms, and women’s desire to control their sexuality. This is a highly focused practice in two-thirds of women with FGM/C live in four countries: Ethiopia, Nigeria, Egypt and Sudan.
However, it is important to understand that while FGM/C is associated with various cultural traditions, it is not limited to a specific region or religion. All forms of FGM/C are associated with increased short- and long-term mental health risks. Female genital mutilation is harmful and unacceptable from a human rights and public health standpoint, regardless of who perpetrated it.
While some healthcare providers practice medicalisation, the World Health Organization and many African authorities oppose female genital mutilation in all its forms. They strongly recommend that healthcare professionals discontinue female genital mutilation immediately, either at possible request from the patient themselves or from families. The psychological or mental effects are lasting in victims, ranging from lack of self-identity to post-traumatic stress and sexual displeasure.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
In the long term, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, and memory loss may appear. A study of African communities of practice found that women who experienced FGM showed similar levels of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as adults who were victims of child abuse.
The majority of women who suffer from an emotional disorder (mood) or anxiety disorder are women who have experienced FGM and may also be affected by chronic pain syndrome, and with other causes of chronic pain, are at increased risk of depressed mood, decreased socially functioning, useless, guilty, and even suicidal.
Lack of sexual sensitivity and satisfaction
Emotional or physical pain during sex reduces pleasure for both the woman and her partner, affecting the relationship’s intimacy. When intercourse is painful, the vaginal muscles contract, making intercourse even more difficult, thus perpetuating a vicious cycle; As a result, these women avoid sex, which can lead to marital dissatisfaction.
In addition, the removal or injury of very sensitive genital tissue, especially the clitoris, can affect sexual sensitivity and lead to sexual problems, such as decreased libido and sexual pleasure, difficulty with penetration, decreased lubrication during intercourse, and decreased frequency or no orgasm (anorgasmia).
Scars, pain, and traumatic memories associated with the procedure can cause these problems.
Loneliness and isolation
Women who are targets of FGM/C can often express feelings of anger, loneliness, and isolation, particularly toward family members who have betrayed their trust. Some of these women might be unable to discuss FGM/C with friends, doctors, or partners because of the stigma associated with FGM/C practices.
Others might be missing out on important experiences, especially in intimate relationships. This can be seen when friends share positive sexual experiences leading to limited mobility also increases social isolation and loss of a role in society.
Lowered self-esteem and relationship problems
A woman who finds such scars on her genitals may feel ashamed compared to her peers. On the other hand, immigrants of foreign women may change their expectations about sex because of a new sexual culture, new media, or new peers.
Women who have had FGM and notice differences in the shape of their genitals may feel embarrassed during physical examinations or sexual intercourse, lowering their relationship levels with friends and familiar individuals.
Additionally, women who lack sexual pleasure may feel ashamed, incompetent, angry or guilty.
Redefining the outcome of African
Over the past 20 years, female genital mutilation or FGM levels have declined worldwide, mostly in Africa. Girls today are one-third less likely to suffer from FGM than 40 years ago.
However, sustaining these achievements in the face of humanitarian crises such as economic hardship, pandemics, climate change, and armed conflict could hinder progress towards gender equality and ending FGM before the next century. Since this decade of behaviour is only a few years away, this harmful practice can only be stopped through long-term partnerships with the other gender.
Their voices and actions transform ingrained social and gender norms, enabling girls and women to realise their rights and potential for health, education, inclusion and equality. To eradicate female genital mutilation, organised and systematic efforts involving the entire African society are also needed, centring on human rights and equality. Attention to gender, sex education and the needs of women and girls suffering the consequences is more important than ever.
Onah Caleb is a research assistant at Benue State University (Nigeria). He runs the blog KaylebsThought.