How Does Female Genital Mutilation Affect Its Victims?
In spite of the uproar over female circumcision, the practice is still upheld in several cultures across Africa and beyond. How does this ancient practice affect women? Are they victims?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises “all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or another injury to the female genital organs, for non-medical reasons.” An estimated 200 million girls and women alive today are believed to have been subjected to FGM. But FGM rates are increasing, a reflection of global population growth. Girls and women who have undergone FGM live predominately in sub-Saharan Africa and the Arab States. But you will find a few of them in Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America. So what are the effects of circumcision on females? Find out below:
Female circumcision has serious implications for the woman's sexual and reproductive health. Some immediate complications include:
- severe pain
- tetanus or infection
- urine retention
- ulceration of the genital region and injury to adjacent tissue
- wound infection
- urinary infection
Haemorrhage and infection are sometimes severe enough to cause death.
Long-term consequences include complications during childbirth, anaemia, the formation of cysts and abscesses, keloid scar formation, damage to the urethra resulting in urinary incontinence, dyspareunia (painful sexual intercourse), sexual dysfunction, hypersensitivity of the genital area and increased risk of HIV transmission, as well as psychological effects.
Type III circumcision or infibulation may cause complete vaginal obstruction. It then results in accumulated menstrual flow in the vagina and uterus. Infibulation creates a physical barrier to sexual intercourse and childbirth. An infibulated woman, therefore, has to undergo gradual dilation of the vaginal opening before she can have intercourse. Often, infibulated women are cut open on the first night of marriage to enable the husband to get intimate with his wife. At childbirth, many women also have to be cut again because the vaginal opening is too small to allow for the passage of a baby. Infibulation is also linked to menstrual and urination disorders, recurrent bladder, urinary tract infections, and infertility.
A recent study found that circumcised women faced a significantly greater risk of requiring a Caesarean section. They also faced greater risks of an episiotomy and an extended hospital stay; and also of suffering post-partum hemorrhage.
Women who have undergone infibulation are more likely to suffer from prolonged and obstructed labour, sometimes resulting in foetal death and obstetric fistula. The infants of circumcised mothers who have undergone more extensive forms of FGM are at an increased risk of dying at birth.
Very recent estimates by WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA, The World Bank and the United Nations Population Division reveal that most of the high-FGM-prevalence countries also have high maternal mortality ratios and high numbers of maternal death. Two high-FGM-prevalence countries are among the four countries with the highest numbers of maternal death globally. Five of the high-prevalence countries have maternal mortality ratios of 550 per 100,000 live births and above.
When practitioners cut several girls with one blade, they risk transmitting HIV. And this is usually what happens during traditional rites and group circumcisions.
Also, due to damage to the female sexual organs, sexual intercourse can result in the laceration of tissue. This also greatly increases the risk of HIV transmission. The same is true for the blood loss that accompanies childbirth.
Circumcision may have lasting effects on women and girls who undergo the practice. The psychological stress of the procedure sometimes triggers behavioural disturbances in children, closely linked to loss of trust and confidence in caregivers. In the longer term, women may suffer feelings of anxiety and depression. Sexual dysfunction may also contribute to marital conflicts or divorce.