16 June 2016

Don't medicalise FGM/C - end it

Guest blog by Dr Faith Mwangi-Powell.

While it is estimated that at least 200 million women and girls currently live with the consequences of FGM – which is performed on females of various ages, from newborns to women about to be married – The Medicalisation of FGM report from the 28 Too Many charity argues that a medicalised version of the practice has increased in a number of countries. These include Egypt, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Mali, Nigeria, Northern Sudan, and Yemen, with as much as one-third or more of women in many of these nations having had their daughters cut by trained medical staff.
This medicalisation includes, but is not limited to: facilitating access to sterile medical equipment and products that are used in an attempt to perform the cutting in a more hygienic and less painful way; providing medical training to traditional cutters or any other persons who carry out the procedure; having healthcare personnel, such as doctors, midwives or nurses, perform the FGM procedure, whether within or outside of a clinical facility, and; replacing severe forms of FGM (such as infibulation) with more symbolic types of cutting to reduce the health complications associated with Type III cutting.

Despite perceptions of a more sanitized version of the practice, medicalised FGM remains a very risky procedure that does nothing to mitigate the fact that it is a severe form of violence against girls and women, a violation of their human rights and has life-long physical, emotional and sexual implications for survivors.

By being performed by healthcare workers, who are often respected community members, medicalization of FGM also has the potential to strengthen the practice rather than contribute to its abandonment.  As Dr Faith Mwangi-Powell, Global Director of The Girl Generation, remarked following the launch of the report:

“Undertaken by trained individuals, often in a hospital or clinic, medicalised FGM threatens the global campaign to end the practice.  It has the potential to legitimise it, undermining our collective efforts to end FGM rather than modify it to render it more ‘acceptable’ to those communities practicing it.  What we need is research that investigates why families are accepting medicalised FGM instead of abandoning the practice entirely, and advocacy subsequently at community and national levels to challenge those reasons.  This report from 28 Too Many certainly helps us move along that path of action.”