What is FGM?

A harmful traditional practice

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a harmful traditional practice involving the cutting or removal of the external female genitalia. It has existed for more than 2,000 years and is performed on girls from birth, up to just before marriage, and sometimes beyond. FGM is also known as "female circumcision" or "cutting", and by other terms locally

Based on WHO definitions there are four types of FGM:


Type I: Partial or total removal of the (external) clitoris and/or the prepuce


Type II: Partial or total removal of the (external) clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora


Type III: Narrowing of the vaginal orifice with creation of a covering seal by cutting and appositioning the labia minora and/or the labia majora, with or without excision of the clitoris

Other harmful procedures

Type IV: All other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, for example: pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterisation

It is estimated that more than 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in the countries where the practice is concentrated. Furthermore, there are an estimated 3 million girls at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation every year. The majority of girls are cut before they turn 15 years old. FGM has been documented in at least 30 countries, mainly in Africa, as well as in the Middle East and Asia. It is also prevalent in diaspora communities around the world.

There are no health benefits to FGM and it causes much harm. Some of the health problems caused include:

- severe loss of blood, pain or shock;

- difficulties in urinating or menstruating;

- increased risk of bladder infection and HIV;

- psychological problems;

- issues with sexuality and pain during sex;

- complications, and sometimes death, in pregnancy and childbirth; and

- incontinence due to tears in bladder or rectum (fistula).

Further information on FGM can be found at United Nations Population Fund.

Why and where does it happen?

FGM is an ancient traditional practice that has been taking place for over 2,000 years. While it is not known exactly where and why it first happened, it is thought to originate from Sudan/Egypt. It is often mistakenly believed that FGM is performed for religious reasons, but it pre-dates the major faiths and is not required by any religion. The reasons why FGM continues today are complex and reflect both the history and current circumstances of the communities in which it takes place. Reasons given for practising FGM include:

- family expectations and to maintain family honour;

- tradition and/or religious values;

- the preservation of virginity and chastity;

- community/social acceptance;

- cleanliness/hygiene; and

- preparation of girls for womanhood and to enable them to have good marriages.


Several forms of Type IV FGM are practised, even in countries where FGM is not recognised as being prevalent.

Labia stretching/elongation is a form of Type IV.  Tri.x defines it as ‘elongating the labia minora through manual manipulation (pulling) or use of physical equipment such as weights and other objects.’

Other forms of Type IV include angurya cuts (scraping the tissues surrounding the vagina), cauterization of the clitoris and the introduction of corrosive herbs into the vagina to cause bleeding and narrowing.

What is FGM?

An overview of FGM