Female genital mutilization (FGM) is a strong social and cultural practice among many civilizations in the world today. Although not as common among the Western world anymore, countries within Africa and the Middle East still heavily practice this. Among Africa, 26 countries actively participate in female genital mutilization, with one of the countries being Nigeria (Toubia, 1994). There are many different reasons for women to undergo this procedure. One study mentions that out of a total of 500 Nigerian women, 95% said that female genital mutilization is for cultural and traditional reasons, 49% believe it helps to prevent promiscuity, 18% thought that a vulva that doesn’t undergo female genital mutilization is ugly, 11% believed that the operation prevents the death of male newborns, 9% received pressure from relatives to pursue the operation, and 6% mentioned religious reasons (Utz-Billing & Kentenich, 2008).
Out of all of the things the Nigerian women mentioned, one of the reasons that really stuck out to me to undergo female genital mutilization was the belief that FGM prevents the death of male newborns. The fact that this reason involves MALE newborns and not all newborns really emphasizes the importance of birthing males in Nigeria’s society, as I’ve talked about in earlier activities. Female genital mutilization, however, holds many dangers to a woman and her body, psychologically and physically. Chronic irritability and nightmares have been reported, and these women are at higher risk for psychological diseases such as depression, psychosis, and others (Utz-Billing & Kentenich, 2008). In communities where female circumcision is of high focus and value, girls face societal peer pressure, depression, and the fear, trauma, and after-effects of the operation (Toubia, 1994). Also, due to frequent lack of information on the operation being passed to girls and women, this can cause a lack of confidence in the person to whom the individual relates to the most. Physically, female genital mutilization has been connected to pregnancy and delivery complications (Utz-Billing & Kentenich, 2008), hemorrhage or the excessive loss of blood, severe pain, anemia, and infections around the wound (Toubia, 1994). Some common long-term complications are pelvic and back pain, infertility, urinary stones, kidney damage, and especially the formation of dermoid cysts. These occur along the line of the scar and can vary in size. The presence of dermoid cysts also brings heightened anxiety to women, due to the fear that it may be an indicator of cancer. Interference with sexual intercourse also comes into play, which plays a main role in reproduction (Toubia, 1994).
Another danger that is being studied is the increased risk of HIV transmission with female genital mutilization. In one study, it was revealed that 97% of the time, the same equipment can be used on 15-20 different girls undergoing female genital mutilization, which can aid in the spread of HIV. Additionally, another study indicated other ways that HIV can be spread. Increased need for blood transfusions due to hemorrhage from FGM is one way. Another is the fact that girls who have the FGM procedure are much desired, so dowry demands for the girls may be high. Because of this, girls are married off to older men who can meet the demand, and these men may already be infected with HIV, which is then spread during intercourse (Brady, 1999). HIV/AIDS is increasingly becoming even more of a public health issue in Nigeria, with reported AIDS cases more than doubling each year (Isiugo-Abanihe, 1994). For this reason, along with the other health issues that female genital mutilization brings (as mentioned earlier), it is highly important to address this topic and spread more awareness on the effects of FGM to the public. Not only is it important to address from a public health standpoint, but it needs to be addressed from a cultural standpoint. Like said earlier, many Nigerian women believe FGMs help with providing male children, when in actuality this procedure brings more harm than good. It brings forth more complications with carrying a pregnancy and having a baby. As a society that really places importance on women bringing up families, it is important that everyone understands the risks that female genital mutilization brings forth.
- Toubia, Nahid. “Female circumcision as a public health issue.” New England Journal of Medicine 331.11 (1994): 712-716.
- Brady, Margaret. “Female genital mutilization: complications and risk of HIV transmission.” AIDS PATIENT CARE and STDs 13.12 (1999): 709-716.
- Utz-Billing, I. & Kentenich, H. “Female genital mutilation: an injury, physical and mental harm.” Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology 29.4 (2008): 225-229.
- Isiugo-Abanihe, Uche C. “Extramarital relations and perceptions of HIV/AIDS in Nigeria.” Health Transition Review 4 (1994): 111-125.
- Mandara, M.U. “Female genital mutilation in Nigeria.” International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics 84 (2004): 291–298.