Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a procedure which involves the deliberate circumcision or altering of female genitalia. It is a painful process, which has no health benefits. In most cases, FGM is highly unsanitary, performed by cutters who lack medical knowledge and improvise with unwashed tools such as razor blades, scissors and scalpels. More alarmingly, it tends to be carried out on infant girls and teenagers between the ages of 12 and 18 who have little to no say in what happens. In the UK, FGM is illegal under the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003, however in many parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia it is seen as a ceremonial practice.
Traditionally, particularly within the Maasai tribes of Kenya, FGM is seen as a necessary practice to prepare young girls for marriage and help them ‘become real women’. Many Maasai families worry that their daughters will live in poverty as a result of not being financially able to send them to school, therefore they seek to marry their girls off young to elder suitors who will be able to provide. Removal of genitalia is often encouraged by prospective suitors as a means of instilling loyalty and physically marking the start of womanhood. There is also a widely believed misconception that FGM helps to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS as once a woman is circumcised she will remain with the one partner. Yet, the reality of FGM is that it is both mentally and physically damaging. Young girls who have undergone the procedure commonly suffer from flashbacks, depression and anxiety. On top of this FGM can cause fertility and childbirth complications, severe bleeding and constant pain. The Kenyan Government appear to be making more of an effort to clamp down on FGM, and the number of young Maasai girls undergoing the procedure decreased from 93% to 73% between 2003 and 2009, however there is still a long way to go before this degrading tradition will completely cease. Talking about FGM and trying to raise awareness about its harmful effects is necessary not only for the safety and dignity of women, but also for the sake of the wider gender equality movement.