This month we welcomed Valerie to the Trauma Ambassador Group. Like many others that underwent or are still undergoing this barbaric act, Valerie is a victim and also a survivor of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
‘As a victim of female genital mutilation, it was a horrific experience I can’t allow anyone to undergo. I struggled in silence with this as my thoughts and feelings were clouded with shame and loneliness for a very long time. I suffered a lot of trauma, not just the traumatic experiences but it also affected me in a lot of ways: emotionally, psychologically, mentally, and physically. I often say that female genital mutilation is “a life sentence that stays with you for the rest of your life” and it has affected me a lot.’
‘Thanks to the good people that came into my life, I survived. I have survived the trauma, and I have come out very strong with the mindset of giving my voice to STOP FGM. I work with a team of volunteers at Women Of Grace, supporting women who have undergone this experience like me. Assuring them that as long as they make use of the healing recipe of speaking up so as not to end up suffering in silence, they can come out strong and happy like me.’
‘I won’t stop until I see that FGM no longer exists.’
You can listen to more of Valerie’s story in our latest podcast episode.
What is FGM?
Female genital mutilation (FGM) refers to a set of practices involving cutting, alteration, or injury to the external female genitalia for a non-medical reason. It is a harmful traditional practice with a complex origin. What is clear, however, is that FGM is a manifestation of deeply rooted gender inequality, a fact recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Classification of FGM
Female genital mutilation is classified into four major types, classification based on types 1, 2, 3, and 4.
Type 1: This is the partial or total removal of the clitoral glans (the external and visible part of the clitoris, which is a sensitive part of the female genitals), and/or the prepuce/clitoral hood (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoral glans).
Type 2: This is the partial or total removal of the clitoral glans and the labia minora (the inner folds of the vulva), with or without removal of the labia majora (the outer folds of skin of the vulva).
Type 3: Also known as infibulation, this is the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the labia minora, or labia majora, sometimes through stitching, with or without removal of the clitoral prepuce/clitoral hood and glans.
Type 4: This includes all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g., pricking, piercing, incising, scraping, and cauterizing the genital area.
Effects of FGM
A victim is being exposed to a lot of complications. These effects could be within a short period or for a very long time.
Short-term effects of FGM
- Excessive bleeding (haemorrhage)
- Genital tissue swelling
- Damage to genital tissues
- Urinary problems
- In some instances, death
Long-term effects of FGM
- Medical complications, which can include severe pain, prolonged bleeding, infection, infertility, and even death.
- The act can also lead to an increased risk of HIV transmission.
- Aside from the medical complications FGM also brings about psychological, emotional, and social damage.
The worldwide impact of FGM
According to WHO “treatment of the health complications of FGM is estimated to cost health systems US$ 1.4 billion per year, a number expected to rise unless urgent action is taken towards its abandonment”.
Over 200 million girls and women worldwide are living with the effects of FGM. Every year three million girls and women are at risk of being cut and exposed to harmful health consequences. Globally FGM is concentrated in sub-Saharan African countries from the Atlantic Coast to the Horn of Africa, but women in other countries including Iraq, Oman, Yemen, Indonesia, and Malaysia, are also affected. Global migration means FGM is now a worldwide health issue.
Measures put in place to eradicate FGM
In 2014, the UK Government committed to working to eliminate FGM. Steps taken towards this aim include the creation of educational and safeguarding resources for professionals, and legislative changes including a mandatory reporting duty for professionals in England and Wales (where if a girl under 18 discloses or is found on examination to have FGM then the professional is mandated to report this to the police), and an FGM Enhanced Dataset applicable to NHS organizations in England requiring the submission of personal data about women and girls who have had FGM to NHS Digital. To date, compliance with dataset returns from primary care services has been low.
Further information and support
You can join the movement against FGM by supporting Women Of Grace, who can be found on Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn @womenofgraceuk.
The Healthwatch Essex Information & Guidance service can help you find support and access local and national specialist services, depending upon your individual needs and wishes. Contact us on 0300 500 1895, email [email protected] or text/WhatsApp on 07712 395398.