Sex, Lives and Red Tape

Addressing the Stigma of Female Genital Mutilation

Often village elders perform the ‘cutting’

Today I learnt about the work and influence of Nabaz Ahmed and Shara Amin, two film makers in Kurdistan, in raising awareness of the consequences of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).  Having persuaded people to talk about the effects of FGM they created a documentary which subsequently led to the outlawing of the practice in 2011. Since then, the incidence of FGM practice in Kurdistan is reported to have fallen by more than 60%, which is amazing. I wholeheartedly recommend watching the 17 minute film available here

What is FGM?

FGM is sometimes otherwise referred to as female genital cutting and female circumcision. It includes any procedure that intentionally alters or causes injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons, and is typically carried out on girls from infancy until 15 years old. The procedures vary, but involve removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and interferes with the natural functions of girls’ and women’s bodies. To be clear, there are no health benefits, but the risks are plentiful

FGM is harmful and dangerous

Some of the short-term consequences include severe pain, shock, haemorrhage, tetanus, sepsis, urine retention and injury to nearby genital tissue. Longer-term consequences can include recurrent infections, cysts, infertility, increased risk of childbirth complications and newborn deaths.

The practice of FGM is not limited to Kurdistan…

Who WHO estimates that FGM is carried out in approximately 29 countries today; an estimated 140 million girls and women worldwide are currently living with the consequences of FGM (WHO Factsheet 241).

Why does this practice exist?

There are different reasons in different cultures; however the practice is largely associated with cultural, religious and social aspects of communities. For example,

  • Some communities beleive it is a rite of passage to becoming a woman.
  • Other beleifs include that having been ‘cut’ will assist girls in reducing sexual urges (and therefore beleifs are strongly aligned with what is considered to be acceptable sexual behaviour).
  • Some communities (as exemplified in the above film) believe the practice makes girls ‘clean’ (although it should be noted that no religious materials endorse the practice),

Addressing the stigma

To my mind there are three forms of stigma which need to be considered and addressed regarding FGM. Firstly, there is the stigma of FGM as an unquestioned cultural and social process – and this is being increasingly addressed through education and legislation. Secondly, there is the stigma felt by women who do not undergo ‘cutting’ and are judged negatively by their communities. Thirdly, there is the shame and stigma felt by those who have undergone the process, which may prevent many women from coming forward for help and support.

I shall leave you with an excert from the film created by Nabaz Ahmed and Shara Amin entitled “A Handful of Ash”, which highlights that it is important to talk about things which are stigmatised and make us uncomfortable, in order to raise awareness of the need for change.


FGM is illegal in the UK, and support is available to anyone who has had the procedure done. This video from NHS Choices highlight your rights and signpost where to find help if you or someone you know is at risk of having FGM.

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This entry was posted on October 26, 2013 by in Sexual Health, Stigma and tagged , , , , , , , .