What Everyone Should Know about Female Genital Mutilation

By Dr. Okechukwu Amako, MBBS (Ibadan)
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For myths and fallacies ranging from preventing girls from becoming promiscuous when they grow up to protection against illnesses like depression and making girls suitable for marriage, female babies and young school girls are subjected to the horrors of having some parts of the external region of their private area removed in the name of culture and religion.

This barbaric act is carried out in homes and local elementary schools in some parts of the world, including the northern part of Nigeria. Instruments like razor blades, broken bottle pieces or knives to pierce, cut, remove or sew a part of or all the external region of a girl's private part.

This female genital mutilation (also known as female circumcision) varies all of which are bad for the health of the girl. It can involve only cutting out the tissue fold above the clitoris (known as the prepuce) with or without the clitoris (the muscular tissue located above the opening for urine outflow) to the more radical type where the prepuce and clitoris are completely removed in addition to cutting out the inner skin folds of the vagina (called labia minora) and the outer skin folds (called labia majora) sewn together to cover the vaginal opening, leaving only a small hole for urine and menstrual fluid.

The problem with female genital mutilation is the illusion that it benefits the girl undergoing this procedure among the communities and ethnic groups who practice it. But the truth is there are no medical or any other benefits whatsoever associated with female circumcision. Instead, it negatively affects the health of these girls for life physically, mentally and sexually:

1. Infection

Because female genital mutilation involves cutting out parts of the girl's external genitals which should not be cut in the first place and, in some cases, corrosive substances or herbs are inserted into the vagina, girls who undergo the procedure are prone to things like abscesses in the vagina (sores containing pus). Also, the damage caused by this procedure predisposes the vaginal wall to tear during sexual intercourse, making the girl prone to sexually transmitted infections and HIV.

The radical type female circumcision can obstruct free urine outflow leading to urinary splashing and a urinary tract infection in these girls.

2. The wall between the vagina and the urethra (from which urine comes out) can be damaged during female genital mutilation, leading to what is known as a urinary fistula, a condition where urine leaks uncontrollably from the urethra into the vagina. These girls will develop urine odour that can make them outcasts in the society.

3. Some girls who undergo female circumcision may experience prolonged and very painful menstrual period when they start menstruating because of the narrowing of the vaginal opening from the procedure.

4. Women who underwent female circumcision as girls may experience pain during sexual intercourse (due to scar tissue from the healing of the cuts), lack interest in sex and are at risk of obstructed labour during childbirth because of the reduced stretching ability of the vagina from the procedure. This obstructed labour can lead to vesicovaginal fistula (VVF) in some of these women.

5. Women who had their genitals mutilated in childhood have an increased risk of infertility because they are prone to long-term pelvic infections and difficulty with or lack of interest in having sexual intercourse. If not handled properly, this can lead to marital instability

Girls who were subjected to this barbaric act can develop anxiety and depression later in life whenever they remember the experience or due to the social stigma faced by those who develop complications like VVF (vesicovaginal fistula)

The only way to protect young girls from this unhealthy ritual practice is to join in the campaign to end it. This can be done by raising the issue in discussions on social media, in town hall meetings, community gatherings, during religious gatherings and cultural festivals.

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For more advice and help, feel free to consult a doctor.
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Published Wednesday, May 17th 2017

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