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Consequences of female genital cutting

Female genital cutting (FGM/C) is an irreversible practice. It can have a great many physical and psychological consequences. These complications can be acute or long-term in nature. There are a range of treatments available.

The physical and psychological consequences of FGM/C do not affect all girls or women in the same way. The severity of the genital cutting is a significant factor, as are the age at which the procedure is performed and the circumstances under which it takes place (e.g. hygiene). Apart from these factors, every individual who undergoes female genital cutting has a different set of resources to help her cope with the experience.

Possible physical consequences

Acute consequences

  • Severe pain
  • Heavy bleeding
  • Shock
  • Infections
  • Problems with healing of the wound
  • Urinary problems
  • Death

Long-term consequences

  • Chronic infections
  • Pain and other difficulties associated with urination
  • Pain and other difficulties associated with menstruation
  • Urinary problems
  • Sterility
  • Fistula formation and incontinence
  • Complications associated with scar tissue (cyst or abscess formation)
  • Impairment of sexual function or sexual response (of men as well)
  • Childbirth complications

Treatment options

Genital cutting cannot be reversed. Complications associated with FGM/C can be treated though, and a range of treatments, up to and including reconstructive surgery, are available.

In cases of infibulation (FGM/CType III), a surgical procedure called “defibulation” (or “deinfibulation”) can help mitigate the physical effects of female genital cutting. The procedure involves the surgical opening of the scar tissue covering the vagina. This operation results in the reduction of pain associated with the following: menstruation, urination, frequent bladder infections, sexual intercourse and childbirth. Defibulation can be performed prior to or during childbirth. For this reason, a caesarean section (C-section) is not automatically necessary for women who have undergone infibulations; normal childbirth is possible.

In Switzerland, these operations as well as other treatments are available to women and girls who suffer from health consequences of female genital cutting. There are national and regional contact points that offer advice on this topic.

Possible psychological consequences

The psychological consequences of female genital cutting vary enormously. Some women and girls are traumatized by the experience and suffer from panic attacks, depression or anxiety disorders. Other studies have emphasized that the social context in the country of origin acts as a shield against trauma-related disorders since female genital cutting is associated with positive values. Some researchers have suggested that women or girls would not suffer psychologically unless they migrated to a country that is hostile to the practice of female genital cutting. In general, relatively little is known about the emotional and psychological wounds of those who undergo FGM/C. It is therefore nearly impossible to provide reliable information about the psychological consequences of genital cutting at this time.  

References

Bauer, Christina & Hulverscheidt, Marion (o.J.): Gesundheitliche Folgen der weiblichen Genitalverstümmelung. PDF

Ihring, Isabelle (2015). Weibliche Genitalverstümmelung im Kontext von Migration. Opladen, Berlin & Toronto: Budrich Unipress.

Asefaw, Fana (2008). Weibliche Genitalbeschneidung. Hintergründe, gesundheitliche Folgen und nachhaltige Prävention. Königstein: Helmer Verlag.