Female Genital Mutilation & Social/Cultural Challenges

This month we have a guest post and I’m handing over to Roxana-Elena Preotescu from Victim Support:

On the 18th May, in partnership with EMAG, I delivered an awareness session about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) to ESOL students and other EMAG members. The session proved very useful, as the attendees had very limited awareness of this practice. FGM is a hidden practice of child abuse and violence to girls; perhaps the most extreme way in which women are subordinated by men (Dorkenoo, 1995). FGM has been internationally recognised as a form of torture and violence against women. Women endure the life long lasting consequence of the practice in the name of culture and tradition. The topic is a very sensitive one and usually not questioned by women or discussed amongst communities. It has, however recently become a more and more discussed matter, emphasising the need of concerted work of agencies in recognising and preventing it. Before we look at what we can do to prevent the practice from being performed further, let’s look at its definition and key characteristics.

What is FGM?

Female Genital Mutilation -also known as female circumcision or female cutting- is a cultural practice that involves cutting, removing or altering the female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs whether for cultural or any other non-therapeutic reason. Whilst it is not entirely clear where and from where FGM originated, it is believed that the practice has started in the 5th Century, BC, in Ancient Egypt.

Customs and tradition are the main reasons that justify the practice of FGM. FGM is often practiced as an initiation into adulthood; being considered essential part of social cohesion, in more patriarchal communities, FGM is a requirement for a woman’s honour and survival. In most cultures, an uncircumcised woman will have limited chances of getting married and being accepted as member of the community. The age at which the circumcision is carried out varies, from just after the birth to the labour of the first child. It is however considered that four to ten is the most common age at which the girls are circumcised.

Prevalence of FGM

FGM is common in Western, Eastern and North-Western regions in Africa and some countries in Asia and Middle East. According to WHO, 100 to 140 million girls and women worldwide have experienced FGM. In the UK, it is estimated that over 24,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk of undergoing FGM.

FGM Where does it happen?
Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation/UNICEF & Population Reference Bureau

FGM is a practice that results in serious and sometimes life threatening physical and mental health implications, ranging from:

  • severe pain and shock
  • severe bleeding
  • urinary tract infections
  • complications in pregnancy or childbirth
  • difficulties in passing urine or menstruating
  • psychological problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder or anxiety disorder
  • damages a woman’s relationship
  • affects how a woman feels about herself
  • removes and damages normal female genital tissue
  • infertility

How FGM affects Women

Due to the hidden nature of the crime and also sensitivity of the matter, there is limited qualitative research on FGM. Research by Forward highlights the long-lasting effects the practice has on women, how deeply it is ingrained into people’s beliefs and culture;

‘My mother has died but I can never forgive her for what she did to me, she ruined my life’


I had it done to me and I want my daughter to have it…it is an important part of our culture’.

Myths about FGM

  • FGM is a religious practice –usually associated with Muslim religion- (it is not a religious practice, it is a cultural practice in some communities)
  • FGM is the same as male circumcision (there is no connection between the two, FGM has life lasting effects on one’s physical and mental health, whereas male circumcision is a practice which is painless and leaves no long term damage to men)
  • FGM is carried out by men to control women (it is usually done by elderly women)
  • FGM is done for hygiene and health reasons (the practice is not carried out for any medical reasons, it is done at home, by using razors, and/or knives)

Challenges to recognising and preventing FGM

Recognising and preventing FGM is much more difficult than you think. Some of the challenges come from the hidden nature of the practice, as well as the extent to which the practice has been ingrained into culture. It is important to highlight that FGM is not an act of hate and that it is carried out by parents on their children with a view that it is in their best interest. The truth, however is that FGM is a violation of right to mental and physical integrity, which feeds the systematic denial of women’s civil, political, economic and social rights. It is internationally recognised as a form of torture and violation of women and girls. ‘’To succeed in abolishing the practice of FGM will demand fundamental attitudinal shifts in the way that society perceives the human rights of women” (Efua Dorkenoo, 1994).

If you suspect anyone is at risk, or may be a victim of FGM, you can contact the NSPCC FGM helpline on 0800 028 3550, alternatively you can email them at fgmhelp@nspcc.org.uk

About the Author

Roxana-Elena Preotescu works for Victim Support as Enhanced Service Delivery Manager

Victim Support is an independent, national charity which works towards a world where people affected by crime or traumatic events get the support they need and the respect they deserve. At Victim Support, we help people feel safer and find the strength to move forward after crime. Our support is free, confidential and tailored to ones needs. We recognise that victims of female genital mutilation may be afraid to report the crime for family or cultural reasons. So Victim Support work with local police forces and strategic partners to encourage reporting, and to ensure that victims who come forward get support that’s tailored to their individual needs and circumstances. Should you need support, please contact your local Victim Support team in Richmond on 0208 965 1141 or 0207 244 4555. Alternatively, call our free support line on 08 08 16 89 111. To read further about our services, please visit our Website.

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