What is female genital cutting?

Several different forms of female genital cutting (FGM/C) are practised. They vary from region to region and among the communities that practise them. When FGM/C is performed - or rather, the age at which girls or women undergo FGM/C - also varies.

Definition

The World Health Organization (WHO) uses the term female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) to refer to all procedures that involve partial or total removal of or injury to the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

Genital mutilation or genital cutting?

There is considerable international controversy about which of those terms most aptly describes the practices of FGM/C. “Female genital mutilation” (FGM) is a term coined by activists who wanted to draw attention to the gravity of the act. It came into popular use in the 1990s, and it is now used by many international bodies, including the World Health Organization.
However, many people who have undergone this procedure reject the use of this term because they feel stigmatized by the image of the “mutilated woman”. These women prefer the more neutral term “genital cutting”. This term has also been criticised, however, by people who believe that it plays down the harmful effects of FGM/C.
The Network against Female Genital Cutting Switzerland is not in a position to reconcile these conflicting views. On this website, the Network uses the term “female genital cutting, FGM/C” as consistently as possible.

Forms of female genital cutting

Forms of female genital cutting vary from region to region and from one practising community to another. WHO classifies forms of female genital cutting into four types:

  • Type I (clitoridectomy): Partial or total removal of the external clitoris and/or the prepuce.
  • Type II (excision): Partial or total removal of the external clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora.
  • Type III (infibulation or “pharaonic circumcision”): Narrowing of the vaginal orifice with creation of a covering seal by cutting and appositioning the labia minora and/or the labia majora, with or without excision of the clitoris.
  • Type IV: All other practices that entail injury to the female genitalia for non-medical reasons. For example, pricking or piercing of the inner and outer genitalia.

Age at which female genital cutting is performed

The age at which girls are subjected to genital cutting varies among the practising communities. Depending on the tradition, FGM/C may be performed shortly after birth, during (early) childhood, during puberty, before or after a woman’s marriage or after the birth of her first child. In most cases, female genital cutting is performed on girls between the ages of 0 and 15.

Network’s statement

The Network against Female Genital Cutting Switzerland opposes every form of female genital cutting (FGM/C) and is therefore actively and resolutely committed to protecting girls who are at risk. The Network also supports girls and women who have already experienced this form of violence. Although the Network condemns the practice itself, it does not judge those who have been affected by it.

References

World Health Organisation (WHO) (2016): Female Genital Mutilation. website

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