by Charlotte Portelli
Female genital mutilation (or FGM as it is known for short) involves the partial or total removal of external female genitalia or another injury to the female genital organ for non-medical reasons. At least 200 million living women and girls alive today have been cut. More than half of these women and girls live in just three countries: Indonesia, Egypt and Ethiopia. 44 million are girls below the age of 15.
This continual form of harm to women and girls has serious consequences and tends to be more severe, depending on the extent of the procedure. Shockingly, the procedure is often performed with rudimentary tools and without anaesthesia, while the woman or girl is held down. Aside from experiencing extreme pain and bleeding, there are other health complications including shock, psychological trauma, infections, urine retention, damage to the urethra and anus, and even the possibility of death. Also, it is important to emphasize that the consequences of FGM do not stop with the initial procedure. The girl or woman is permanently mutilated and can suffer other severe long-term physical and mental consequences.
Aside from being a violation of human rights, FGM is considered a form of persecution. All forms of FGM which are performed under the guise of being a cultural tradition, are effectively none other than violent practices against women.
It must be said that the parents, or community at large, mostly view the procedure as upholding their cultural, social or religious values, with no concept of the basic human rights they are breaching, nevertheless that a person has subjected a child to this horrific permanent and irreversible process.
Although primarily concentrated in countries in Africa and the Middle East, FGM is a universal problem and continues to affect women and girls amongst migrant populations in Malta. This is due to a large part of the female migrant population of young girls originating from countries with a high occurrence of FGM, such as Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Egypt, Sudan, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
With women and girls being at risk of gender-related persecution on our small island, we must ensure that they are given adequate protection. Efforts to eliminate FGM focus on strengthening health sector responses and developing and implementing guidelines and tools to ensure that women and girls living with FGM receive adequate medical care and counselling. As part of project GBVSO, we aim to increase knowledge amongst the Maltese public regarding gender-based violence and support women and girls who have experienced such types of violence. If you would like to talk to someone anonymously and in confidence, please reach out on Violet Support Online.
1. Definition from the World Health Organization.
3. Currently there is no statistical data about the practice of FGM in Malta, mainly due to the fact that medical professionals are bound by confidentiality, and there are no estimates based on numbers of particularly vulnerable women on the basis of, for instance, countries of origin. To date, no cases of FGM in Malta have been officially reported or prosecuted.