Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), involving excision of the clitoris, has long been practiced throughout Africa. FGM is without religious basis, for neither the Koran nor the Holy Bible endorses it. In some areas, women usually undergo FGM about 1 week prior to marriage, often after the bride price has been paid.
Communities which practice FGM believe that it helps to reduce women's sexual desire, while the Igbos and Urhobos from Nigeria also believe that an uncircumcised woman will either miscarry or otherwise induce the death of her first-born child.
Moreover, the Urhobos describe the clitoris as ugly and having the potential to grow.
FGM is evil for the following reasons: the risk of infection from using unsterile operating equipment, some circumcised girls lose their virginal sensitivity, it is psychologically wrong, and it sometimes leads to marital disruption when the circumcised woman cannot be satisfied by her husband.
FGM is one of the evils perpetrated in Africa under the guise of tradition. In some communities, it is considered as a rite of passage.
Recently, a report from Burkina Faso claimed that about 50 girls have been hospitalized after undergoing female genital mutilation. According to BBC Afrique, some of the girls are as young as four years.
Police have arrested two 60-year-old women who carried out the exercise which was botched, putting the lives of the girls in danger.
Parents of some of the girls have also been arrested. The circumcisions were carried out this month in the Kaya area, north of the capital, Ouagadougou.
Burkina Faso’s Minister of Women’s Affairs, Laurence Marshall Ilboudo, was reported by the BBC as saying that the total number of girls circumcised could be higher.
The victims have been admitted to the Kaya Regional Hospital and Chiphra Protestant Hospital in Ouagadougou.
Doctors attending to them say many of them have serious complications as a result of the cutting of their genitals.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is illegal in many African countries including Burkina Faso. However, it is difficult to stop the practice usually done in hiding in some communities.
In Burkina Faso, offenders face a jail term of up to three years. There have been several campaigns by rights activists for an end to the practice.
According to the World Health Organization, FGM is an inhumane practice and it poses both short and long term risks.
Short-term health risks of FGM
Severe pain: Cutting the nerve ends and sensitive genital tissue causes extreme pain. Proper anesthesia is rarely used and, when used, is not always effective. The healing period is also painful. Type III FGM is a more extensive procedure of longer duration, hence the intensity and duration of the pain may be more severe. The healing period is also prolonged and intensified accordingly.
Excessive bleeding: Haemorrhage can result if the clitoral artery or other blood vessel is cut during the procedure.
Shock: Can be caused by pain, infection and/or haemorrhage.
Genital tissue swelling: Due to inflammatory response or local infection.
Infections: May spread after the use of contaminated instruments (e.g. use of same instruments in multiple genital mutilation operations), and during the healing period.
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV): The direct association between FGM and HIV remains unconfirmed, although the cutting of genital tissues with the same surgical instrument without sterilization could increase the risk for transmission of HIV between girls who undergo female genital mutilation together.
Urination problems: These may include urinary retention and pain passing urine. This may be due to tissue swelling, pain or injury to the urethra.
Impaired wound healing: Can lead to pain, infections and abnormal scarring
Death: Can be caused by infections, including tetanus and haemorrhage that can lead to shock.
Psychological consequences: The pain, shock and the use of physical force by those performing the procedure are mentioned as reasons why many women describe FGM as a traumatic event.
Long-term health risks from Types I, II and III (occurring at any time during life)
Pain: Due to tissue damage and scarring that may result in trapped or unprotected nerve endings.
Chronic genital infections: With consequent chronic pain, and vaginal discharge and itching. Cysts, abscesses and genital ulcers may also appear.
Chronic reproductive tract infections: May cause chronic back and pelvic pain.
Urinary tract infections: If not treated, such infections can ascend to the kidneys, potentially resulting in renal failure, septicemia and death. An increased risk for repeated urinary tract infections is well documented in both girls and adult women.
Painful urination: Due to the obstruction of the urethra and recurrent urinary tract infections.
Menstrual problems: Results from the obstruction of the vaginal opening. This may lead to painful menstruation (dysmenorrhea), irregular menses and difficulty in passing menstrual blood, particularly among women with Type III FGM.
Keloids: There have been reports of excessive scar tissue formation at the site of the cutting.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV): Given that the transmission of HIV is facilitated through trauma of the vaginal epithelium which allows the direct introduction of the virus, it is reasonable to presume that the risk of HIV transmission may be increased due to increased risk for bleeding during intercourse, as a result of FGM.
Female sexual health: Removal of, or damage to highly sensitive genital tissue, especially the clitoris, may affect sexual sensitivity and lead to sexual problems, such as decreased sexual desire and pleasure, pain during sex, difficulty during penetration, decreased lubrication during intercourse, reduced frequency or absence of orgasm (anorgasmia). Scar formation, pain and traumatic memories associated with the procedure can also lead to such problems.
Obstetric complications: FGM is associated with an increased risk of Caesarean section, post-partum haemorrhage, recourse to episiotomy, difficult labor, obstetric tears/lacerations, instrumental delivery, prolonged labor, and extended maternal hospital stay. The risks increase with the severity of FGM.
Obstetric fistula: A direct association between FGM and obstetric fistula has not been established. However, given the causal relationship between prolonged and obstructed labor and fistula, and the fact that FGM is also associated with prolonged and obstructed labor it is reasonable to presume that both conditions could be linked in women living with FGM.
Perinatal risks: Obstetric complications can result in a higher incidence of infant resuscitation at delivery and intrapartum stillbirth and neonatal death.
Psychological consequences: Some studies have shown an increased likelihood of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety disorders and depression. The cultural significance of FGM might not protect against psychological complications.
The time to stop this evil is now, and our young women must be protected from this butchery.
Credit: WHO, BBC, Mohamed H, Nigerian Tribune, African Feeds
Photo Credit: Friedrich Stark / Alamy Stock Photo