What is Female Genital Cutting?

Female genital cutting is just that: the cutting of female genitalia. Several different forms and practices exist, and the girls’ age at which the cutting is performed varies considerably.

Read more about this.

Tradition Says ‘Yes’. I Say ‘No!’

Tradition is often cited to justify female genital cutting of girls. But traditions can and do change. Join us to help protect girls from female genital cutting.

We support your efforts.

What are the Health Consequences?

Many women and girls who have been cut suffer from the health and psychological consequences of the practice.

You have a right to get help!

Where is female genital cutting practised?

Female genital cutting is still being performed on girls and women in many countries. Over 200 million girls and women worldwide have undergone genital cutting. An additional three million infants and little girls are cut each year.

In which countries?

Frequently Asked Questions

There are a lot of questions and a lot of uncertainty about female genital cutting out there.

You can find answers here.

Where Can I Get Help?

Many women and girls who have been cut find it difficult to talk about their questions and problems. We will help you and provide you with free and confidential advice.

Contact us.

Is Female Genital Cutting Against the Law?

Female genital cutting is prohibited by law in Switzerland and in most other countries. Women and girls have the right to protection and help.

Get informed.

What is Female Genital Cutting?

The region and the community a girl lives in determines which of the various forms of female genital cutting she undergoes. Female genital cutting is classified into the following four types:

  • Type I (incision): partial or total removal of the clitoris
  • Type 2 (excision): partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora (inner lips)
  • Type 3 (infibulation or “pharaonic circumcision”): Excision of the clitoris and the labia minora. The labia majora (outer lips) are stitched together, leaving only a small opening.
  • Type 4: All other practices that involve injury to the female genitalia. For example, pricking or piercing of the inner and outer genitalia.

The age at which female genital cutting is performed on girls varies a great deal. In some communities, girls are cut during the first months of their lives. In other communities the cutting is performed when girls are between the ages of 4 and 8. There are also communities in which female genital cutting is performed during puberty or on adult women though. In some cases, for instance, the vaginal opening of an adult women is stitched closed again (reinfibulation) after she gives birth.  
If you would like to find out in which of the world’s regions and how often female genital cutting is practised, you can find a map providing an overview here.

Please contact us if you have questions about genital cutting or if you need help: Free information and advice.

What happens when a girl or woman undergoes female genital cutting? Dr. Kuhn, a gynaecologist from Inselspital, Bern University Hospital, explains the procedure:

Tradition Says ‘Yes’. I Say ‘No!’

10 reasons why female genital cutting should no longer be practised:

  1. Female genital cutting is a violation of human rights
  2. Every child has a right to a healthy body
  3. There is no written record of any obligation to practise female genital cutting in any of the world’s major religions
  4. The bodies of girls are perfect the way that God made them
  5. Female genital cutting is prohibited by law in Switzerland and in many other countries
  6. Girls and women who have not been cut suffer less pain, are healthier and live longer
  7. Female genital cutting can cause infertility
  8. Women who have not been cut have fewer problems during childbirth
  9. Female genital cutting is not what determines whether a woman is faithful to her husband
  10. It is very difficult for girls and women who have been cut to live in a society that condemns this tradition

Do you want to take a stand against this tradition? We will support you with advice and information.

An imam and a preacher say: “Female genital cutting does not have religious origins!” And two women talk about the issues: “Women who haven’t been cut can be good wives!”

What are the Health Consequences?

Female genital cutting has dangerous consequences for the health of girls and women. Some even die as a result of the physical consequences. The possible consequences of female genital cutting include:

  • Fear, stress, trauma and shock
  • Infections
  • Pain during menstruation or urination
  • Loss of control over urination
  • Problems with scar tissue
  • Childbirths that are painful and complicated for mother and child
  • Infertility
  • Pain during sex and decreased sexual desire

Not all women and girls who have been cut live with these problems. Whether problems do occur and what type of problems they are varies with the type of female genital cutting and how it was performed. In addition, every woman and girl responds differently to difficult experiences.

Possible psychological consequences

Girls and women can also suffer from psychological problems as a result of female genital cutting. For instance, they may be disappointed that their parents failed to protect them. When girls who have been cut come to Switzerland, they compare themselves with girls who have not been cut and then begin to wonder why this was done to them. The experience can trigger fears in many girls and women or make them sad.

Female genital cutting cannot be undone, but the physical and psychological problems can be treated. Every girl and every woman has a right to such treatment.
If you have been cut, or if you are afraid that you are in danger of being cut, get help.

Dr. Kuhn, a gynaecologist from Inselspital, Bern University Hospital, explains the consequences of female genital cutting:

Where is female genital cutting practised?

Female genital cutting primarily affects girls and women in certain African countries. In countries like Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan, Egypt, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Mali and Djibouti, female genital cutting is still performed on large numbers of girls and women. However, female genital cutting also occurs in Asia, on the Arabian Peninsula and in Kurdish regions. Female genital cutting is practised in some Muslim countries. But not in all of them, as the example of Saudi Arabia makes clear.

What’s more, female genital cutting is on the decline in many countries. Current figures (for 2015/2016), for instance, show that the numbers of girls who have been cut are falling. In other words: the trend is towards fewer girls being cut:

Proportion of the older generation that has been cut     Proportion of the younger generation that has been cut
Eritrea 83% 78%
Sudan 87% 84%
Ethiopia 74% 62%
Egypt 87% 61%
Somalia 98% 97%

Source: Integra

Female genital cutting is prohibited by law in most African countries and in Switzerland. Find out about the legal situation.

Would you like to talk to someone about female genital cutting? Is genital cutting an issue for you personally? Contact us for information and advice.

You can find more information about the countries in which female genital cutting is practised on our subject-specific webpage.

Where Can I Get Help?

Do you have questions about women’s health and female genital cutting? Send us an e-mail or call us:

Departement for the Prevention of Female Genital Cutting
Caritas Switzerland
Nadia Bisang and Denise Schwegler
041 419 23 55
advice@female-genital-cutting.ch

We would be happy to advise you in person, as well as by email/phone. Please contact us to arrange a meeting.
Counselling is free. If you do not want to give us your name, we are happy to answer your questions anonymously. A female intercultural interpreter can be present at the counselling session (on demand).
Men who wish to discuss questions relating to female genital cutting are also welcome to get in touch. If you are looking for support services in your region, click here for a list of offices and services to contact.

Contacts in an emergency (24 hour services)
Telephone numbers:

  • 143 Helpline of Die Dargebotene Hand/La Main Tendue (“The helping hand”)
  • 147 Helpline for children and teenagers
  • 117 Police

Internet-Sites

Is Female Genital Cutting Against the Law?

A person who practises female genital cutting is violating human rights, including the right of women and girls to be protected from violence in particular. States have an obligation to protect girls and women from female genital cutting and to ensure that they receive help.
In Switzerland, the prohibition of female genital mutilation is set down in Article 124 of the Swiss Criminal Code. The law.

Punishment is not limited to the men and women who perform the actual cutting: parents or relatives who have a girl subjected to female genital cutting are liable to punishment as well. A person who performs female genital cutting abroad, or enables it to be performed abroad, is also liable to punishment. Any person who violates this law is liable to a prison sentence or a fine. This applies to all forms of genital cutting, including Type 1 (sometimes referred to as sunna). Parents are responsible for protecting their girls. If they fail to meet this responsibility, the appropriate authorities, such as the child protection authorities, will be requested to intervene. Government authorities in Switzerland provide people affected by female genital cutting with advice and assistance, specifically, medical, psychological and legal assistance.

Female genital cutting can constitute grounds for asylum in Switzerland, but only if the country of origin is unable to provide any protection against female genital cutting.

You can find out more about the prohibitions, rights and laws that apply in Switzerland and internationally and learn about the legal situation in the countries where female genital cutting is practised on our subject-specific webpage on “Legal Basis”.

Statement by Federal Councillor Simonetta Sommaruga: “Female genital cutting is prohibited in Switzerland.”

I have severe pains, above all when I am menstruating. What can I do?

If you are experiencing pain you should see a gynaecologist who specialises in this area to talk about your situation. Depending on the form of female genital cutting involved, some women can undergo surgery to re-open their vaginas (defibulation). This procedure is paid for by the health insurance fund. Advice and information

I have been cut and I’m pregnant. What will this mean for the birth of my child?

There are a number of midwives, gynaecologists and hospitals in Switzerland that have experience with childbirth by women who have been cut. There is no need to be afraid. Mention the genital cutting as early in your pregnancy as possible so that your health professionals are aware of it and can plan accordingly. Advice and information

I am not sure whether or not I have been cut or what that would mean...

There are many women who do not know whether or not they have been cut. When female genital cutting is performed in very early childhood, the women involved have no conscious memory of it. What’s more, female genital cutting is a taboo subject, so women cannot ask their mothers or other relatives about it. If you are interested in this question, go see a gynaecologist who specialises in this area. Advice and information

I have been cut and have had some bad experiences with health professionals.

Girls and women who have been cut have a right to good healthcare. That means that healthcare practitioners are obliged to provide professional advice and treatment to women who have been cut. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Please contact us if you would like to talk about your experiences. Advice and information

I am married to a woman who has been cut. What does this mean?

The female genital cutting may affect the physical and/or psychological well-being of your wife. It is also possible that sexual activity is painful for her. There are services in Switzerland that specialise in providing advice on questions and problems like these. This service is free. Advice and information

I do not want my daughter to undergo female genital cutting. Where can I get help?

It is important that you, as mothers and fathers, take action to protect your daughters. We will support you in your efforts. Many dedicated women and men from countries like Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia and the Sudan, who now live in Switzerland have become activists on behalf of the prevention of female genital cutting. Talks with parents can be arranged with the help of these peer educators. If you are interested in such a discussion, please contact the counsellors from Caritas Switzerland. Advice and information