Frequently Asked Questions about FGM

  • Date: 04/11/2020
  • Author: Jo-Ann Ward

Update: 04/11/20

What is FGM?

Female genital mutilation (FGM) involves the partial or total removal of external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. The procedure can cause severe bleeding, infection, infertility and even death. FGM can have devastating physical, psychological and social consequences for the rest of girls’ lives.

Ultimately FGM is carried out to control women’s sexuality and sexual agency. In addition to the physical issues, FGM is also linked to child marriage and other harmful practices.

The effect that FGM has on a girl’s physical and mental health, as well as the limits it places on her sexual agency and life prospects, means that FGM is a seriously harmful practice that needs to end.

Is FGM a religious practice?”

No. FGM has nothing to do with religion.

It is often incorrectly perceived as an Islamic religious practice. However, it is entrenched in the traditions of many societies around the world and is not connected to any religion in particular. It predates Christianity and Islam.

FGM is practiced among some followers of the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish faiths. The association of FGM with Islam has been refuted by many Muslim scholars and theologians who note that FGM is not prescribed in the Quran and is contradictory to the teachings of Islam. In Ireland, The Islamic Centre of Ireland and the Irish Muslim Peace & Integration Council have strongly condemned FGM.

“Can FGM ever be prevented?”

A 2018 study by the British Medical Journal showed that the number of girls undergoing FGM has fallen dramatically in East Africa over the past two decades – from 71.4% in 1995 to 8% in 2016.

ActionAid believes that bringing an end to female genital mutilation requires changes in attitudes and behaviour at all levels of society.  In Kenya, we provide direct support to women and girls who have escaped mutilation, through our rescue centres, safe houses and girls clubs.

To bring about change we talk openly about the damaging impacts of FGM with women, men, boys and girls, as well as influential members of the community, such as traditional elders and religious leaders. We work closely with each of these groups and offer them training in the specific skills they need to speak out and influence others, so that eventually whole communities reject FGM.

Why does FGM take place?”

FGM is a cultural practice. In many instances, parents want their daughters to undergo FGM to avoid stigma and social exclusion

Families see it as part of upholding family honour and tradition. Women, particularly older generations, who are custodians and key decision makers on FGM, view it as an essential part of a girl’s cultural and gender identity, and a social obligation.

Men and boys often grow up expecting that they will marry someone who has undergone the procedure. Additionally girls may want to be cut due to peer pressure, fear of social exclusion, and the belief that is necessary if they wish to marry.

Refusing FGM can have severe social repercussions, including being rejected by one’s family, becoming an outcast, and in extreme cases — such as certain areas in Uganda – being denied the right to speak in public.

“What is the difference between male circumcision and FGM?”

Male circumcision involves the removal of the foreskin from the head of the penis and is a practice that will normally have no harmful effect on the boy being circumcised. It does, however, very often take place without the consent of the boy which goes against his right to bodily integrity. Male circumcision is sometimes required for medical reasons and in these cases, it offers medical benefits to the recipient if carried out in a medical facility.

FGM is the removal of part or all the female genital organs for no medical reason. It is also often carried out without the explicit consent of the girl being cut and is a much more harmful practice than male circumcision.

FGM is never medically required and very often has severe negative consequences for the recipient, both physical and psychological. In the short term, it can cause, excessive bleeding, shock, infection and even death. For survivors of FGM, it can also cause vaginal, menstrual and sexual health problems as well as obstetric fistula, childbirth issues and many more health problems. Not to mention the effects on the psyche, confidence levels and or psychological effects on the girl, that she will carry with her throughout her life.

“What is ActionAid doing to end FGM in Ireland?”

Our Anti-FGM project is a course based on helping people to reflect on their problems and the possible solutions. It provides women who take part with the knowledge, skills and confidence to reject FGM, for both themselves and female relatives or friends, by understanding their right to bodily autonomy.

ActionAid is part of the Irish Steering Committee on FGM, which was started in 2008. Other specialised organisations in the country such as AkiDwA and the Irish Family Planning Clinic (IFPA) are working on raising awareness and providing support and services to victims and potential victims of FGM.

In January ActionAid launched a petition to ‘End FGM by 2030.’ The petition has received over 10,000 signatures and we have been blown away by the response.

To sign the petition click here. To further your support and make a donation click here

“I thought FGM was already illegal in Ireland?

Correct. FGM became illegal in Ireland in 2012 when the Criminal Justice Act (Female Genital Mutilation) was passed.

However, the law alone is not enough to stop this practice. In fact, there is a danger that the law will drive it further underground – meaning survivors fail to receive urgent medical or psycho-social care.

ActionAid lobbies for a preventative approach with interventions aimed at challenging social norms. To do this, we are calling for a National Action Plan on FGM which supports the training of all professionals and service providers working with FGM-affected communities, including, for example, midwives and social workers. This approach means we can prevent FGM from happening in the first place rather than taking a purely punitive route.

Why wait until 2030?”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that more than 140 million girls and women globally have undergone this procedure – with more than 3 million girls in Africa alone at risk of undergoing this practise every year.

Unfortunately, recent studies by the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF) estimates that the Covid-19 pandemic and the significant delays in programmes to end FGM could result in an estimated 2 million additional cases of FGM over the next decade.

After much thought, we decided ending FGM by 2030 is a realistic and achievable target. Given the prevalence of FGM and its deep roots in cultural practices, we could not in good conscience say that we could end it immediately. Other organisations such as Unicef, Equality Now and The United Nations also support ending FGM by 2030 and we felt it would be more achievable if we work together.

There is a huge lack of awareness about FGM in Ireland. In addition to this, most of the women and girls who are at risk of or have undergone FGM in Ireland belong to migrant communities so they are often excluded from public services.

Communities who practice FGM often believe it is vital to maintaining ideas of cleanliness or honour for their daughters or granddaughters. Cultural beliefs like this are not easily changed which is why we have taken a multidimensional approach.

While effective, change is slow. At ActionAid, we pride ourselves on being accountable. We recognise that changing deep-rooted cultural behaviours does not happen overnight.

To clarify, this timeline does not mean we support FGM happening in the next 10 years. In fact, we abhor it in all cases. We simply want to be transparent, realistic, and accountable in our campaign to end FGM.

“What difference will a petition make?”

When you sign our petition, you are helping us to demonstrate that a large number of people care about this topic.

It works best when the number of petitioners is high. That way we can send a clear message to:

  • The Irish government: we want to show the government that people care about this issue and that it is no longer something we can ignore
  • General public: we use the petition to build awareness around FGM in Ireland. We believe that the more people know about this issue – the greater chance we have of solving it
  • Survivors of FGM: signing and sharing the petition is a powerful expression of solidarity to the survivors of FGM. When you sign and decide to join our community of donors as well, you’re helping entire communities reject FGM.

Where did you obtain your statistics?”

According to 2016 Central Statistics Office (CSO), there is an estimated 5,790 women and girls living in Ireland who have undergone FGM. In addition to this, CSO estimates that there are as many as 1,632 girls living in Ireland who are estimated to be at high risk.

The collected data included the number of women residing in Ireland from FGM-practising countries between the ages of 15 and 44, broken down by age group and country of origin. The number of women from each country and in each age group was then integrated with applicable global prevalence data from the World Health Organisation.

Census data is subject to several limitations. According to the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA), these figures are likely to be an underestimate. This is because some individuals and groups may be hesitant to participate in the census. Furthermore, the Central Statistics Office collected this data four years ago. Recent trends of inward migration to Ireland have shown an increase in the number of women from FGM-practising countries, therefore, we would expect this number to be even higher.

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