Many of us recognize the horrors of female genital mutilation, but do we understand its full extent? According to a recent article from the New York Times, the answer is no. This month the United Nations revealed that the number of females who had their genitals removed has been underestimated by seven million.
Female genital mutilation, also known as female genital cutting, consists of any procedures that involve removing the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons. And while this is internationally recognized as a violation of human rights for girls and women, the practice continues to thrive.
From the World Health Organization website:
It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children. The practice also violates a person’s rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.
The WHO also reports that highest concentration of FGM occurs within Africa and the Middle East. The most recent data from the U.N. came from an Indonesian survey. Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous country, and though the practice is currently outlawed, it is still quite prominent.
The New Yorker reports:
Nearly half of all Indonesian females under the age of twelve have undergone female genital mutilation or cutting, as it’s formally known. The new numbers bump up the worldwide total to at least two hundred million women and girls, alive today, who have undergone genital mutilation—some just a few weeks after birth, the vast majority before the age of ten.
And those numbers still don’t provide the exact total of women and girls forced to undergo genital mutilation; many countries aren’t willing to reveal any data regarding the act. Anecdotal information has revealed that genital mutilation is occurring in Malaysia, India, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman. This goes against early assumptions that mutilation was limited to Africa, whereas now there is a recognition that the practice is happening all over the world.
This includes the United States. The New Yorker continues:
More than half a million females in the United States have either undergone F.G.M./C. or are at serious risk; that’s double or triple earlier estimates, according to an analysis by the Population Research Bureau and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Genital mutilation was outlawed in the United States in 1996. The problem continued as some girls were transported out of the country during their school breaks for “vacation cutting.” As the problem persists, the U.S. government continues to fund prevention and outreach programs. The penalties for those committing genital mutilation is increasing as well.
UNICEF notes that there is some evidence of a global decline in FMG. Currently, adolescent girls today are about a third less likely to be cut than they were 30 years ago.
According to the UNICEF website:
Kenya and Tanzania have seen rates drop to a third of their levels three decades ago through a combination of community activism and legislation. In the Central African Republic, Iraq, Liberia and Nigeria, prevalence has dropped by as much as half.
Attitudes are also beginning to shift. More and more of the countries where mutilation is regularly practiced have expressed their desire to see it end, but pressure from society compels them to continue to engage in the act. But despite these rays of hope, population growth and undeterred attitudes will still lead to an increased numbers of FGM.
UNICEF states that “programmatic evidence suggests that FGM/C can end in one generation.” In addition to UNICEF’s many programs, the organization has collaborated with UNFPA to form UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: Accelerating Change , a program dedicated to discontinuing the act.
Implementing change means we first need to stimulate a conversation. Until then, the women forced to undergo female genital mutilation will continue to increase.
Amanda Kohr is a 25-year-old writer and photographer with a penchant for yoga, food, and travel. She prefers to bathe in the moonlight rather than the sun, and enjoys living in a state of the three C’s: cozy, creative, and curious. When she’s not writing, you can find her driving her VW Bug, looking for the next roadside attraction or family diner. She also roams the internet at amandakohr.com and through Instagram.