The practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) is a form of violence against women and girls that has been around for more than a thousand years.

While its origins are unclear, eradicating the practice will bring the world one step closer to achieving gender equality — and ending FGM is a key part of the United Nations’ Global Goal 5, for achieving gender equality by 2030.

So what is FGM? It’s essentially the practice of partially cutting or entirely removing the external female genitalia, and also includes any other harm or injury caused to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

What are 3 key facts people should know about it?
  1. There are four different types of FGM identified by the World Health Organization: Type 1 is the partial or total removal of the clitoris; Type 2 is the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, and sometimes also the removal of the labia majora; Type 3 involves the narrowing or sewing up of the vaginal opening, including the removal of the labia minora and majora, and sometimes the clitoris. Type 4 includes all other harmful procedures, and can include pricking, piercing, and cauterization (burning).
  2. There are no religions that promote FGM — it is a cultural practice that has become tradition over time.
  3. It happens globally and has been banned in 44 countries — but even in countries where it’s been banned, enforcement is still a real problem.
How many people does it affect?

According to the World Health Organization, it is estimated that 200 million girls and women alive today have experienced FGM — and over 3 million girls are at risk of undergoing the practice every year. The rate of FGM is also increasing, in line with global population growth.

Who is affected?

Young girls from just days after birth up until the age of 15 are most commonly cut, however the practice can also have long-term effects that impact women for the rest of their lives. It is also known to be practiced at different stages of a woman’s life, for example at the time of marriage or even after they give birth.

What impact does it have on people’s lives?

FGM has physical, psychological, and social impacts on people’s lives.

The direct physical impact it has is on the health and safety of the girls who experience FGM.

The health risks of the practice include bleeding, infection, higher risk of maternal and infant mortality, infertility, higher risk of contracting HIV, difficulty menstruating, painful urination, and urinary tract infections.

FGM can also cause short-term and long-term psychological trauma. In the short term it can trigger behavioral disturbances in children, which are closely linked to a loss of trust in their families or caregivers. In the longer term, women can experience anxiety and depression.

Finally, the tradition can have social impacts on individuals and families. In areas where it is deemed an essential rite of passage, not undergoing cutting can result in social exclusion of families and girls are often stigmatized and discriminated against.

Read the full article about female genital mutilation by Khanyi Mlaba at Global Citizen.