Female Genital Cutting


Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is also referred to as Female Circumcision or Female Genital Cutting (FGC). It is defined as all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs whether for cultural or other non-therapeutic reasons.

FGC has been practiced in parts of Africa for many centuries, generally as one element of a rite of passage preparing young girls for adulthood and marriage. I have learnt that FGC dates back to thousands of years before Christ. A Greek Papyrus from 163 BC mentions girls in Egypt undergoing FGC and it is widely accepted that it originated in Egypt and the Nile at the time of the Pharaohs.

It is estimated that 100 million girls and women have undergone some form of genital mutilation and at least 2 million girls are at risk of the practice annually.

FGC is practiced in 25 countries in Africa, while the procedure is known to be performed in parts of Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, as well in Europe and Australia.

FGC was practiced many years ago in Cape Town and the rest of South Africa. According to statistics compiled by the South African government - it is no longer practiced by our local communities.

‘Seventy nine African, Caribbean and Pacific countries have committed themselves to the prevention of FGM in the Cotonou Agreement entered into force in 2003.

The practice is traditionally performed by women with a few exceptions as in the case of Ethiopia, where FGM is performed by men.

The WHO (world health organization) catergorises FGM into four main areas. These catergories are used to emphasis the gravity of the act as well as the importance of using non-judgemental terminology within cultural communities. The basis for the use of terminology is derived from the need to highlight that FGM is a gross violation of the human rights of girls and women.

The WHO classifies FGM into these catergories:

Type I: Partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (excision);

Type II: Partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce;

Type III:  Narrowing of the vaginal orifice with creation of a covering seal by cutting and appositioning the labia minora and/or the labia majora, with or without excision of the clitoris (also known as fibulation); and

Type IV: All other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, for example: pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterisation.

The age at which FGM is performed varies, from infancy to childhood. It is however mostly performed just before girls reach puberty or at the time of marriage. Because of the unhygienic and unsterilized conditions under which FGM is performed women suffer many health risks. They are at risk of genital malformation, septicaemia, repeated urinary and reproductive tract infections, infertility and obstructed labour. The risk of HIV infection for these women is high. These are all beside the damaging phychological effects from living with FGM.

Divine Lotus is here to encourage dialogue about FGC. I hope that by talking about genital cutting, we will dispel the myth that FGC happens only in other African countries and not here in South Africa. Talking about it will bring this secret practice out into the open.

This offering is to all those affected. I Honour your courage, your endurance and your silent suffering.

1. The Cotonou Agreement is a treaty between the European Union and the group of African, Caribbean and Pacific states (ACP countries). It was signed in June 2000 in Cotonou, the largest city in Benin, by 79 ACP countries and the then fifteen Member States of the European Union. It entered into force in 2003 and is the latest agreement in the history of ACP-EU Development Cooperation. The Cotonou Agreement is aimed at the reduction and eventual eradication of poverty while contributing to sustainable development and to the gradual integration of ACP countries into the world economy. The revised Cotonou Agreement is also concerned with the fight against impunity and promotion of criminal justice through the International Criminal Court.

2. World Health Organisation, “Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation:2008. 3. From the Papers presented by Parliamentary committee at the Second Pan African Conference 2009.