Female Genital Mutilation in Western Countries

News about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has resurfaced this month, but in areas of the world that are unexpected. Artist Makode Aj Lindein in Sweden created the extremely controversial cake piece around the time news broke that around 100,000 girls and women living in the United Kingdom have been mutilated by FGM. FGM is a highly contentious and sensitive issue, often left open to stereotyping of women without taking into account their cultural context. One thing is certain:  health professionals and groups do not think FGM is good for a woman’s health. Therefore, it came as a shock and revelation to some people that health professionals in the UK were offering the service to women under the table.

Female genital cutting is a cultural custom practiced in mainly African and Middle-Eastern cultures.  The tradition transcends religions and has been practiced for thousands of years. The process involves cutting the female genitalia, and depending on the custom this can be cutting of the clitoris and/or cutting of the vaginal lips. It is an excruciating and horrific process that violates young girls. It is condemned by the World Health Organization and all medical bodies as a practice that is unnecessary and endangers the health of women and girls. 

In the West, FGM is not practiced in mainstream culture. The medical community has largely left this aspect of women’s health unaddressed beyond basic commentary, as it rarely affects women who are raised in Western cultures. However, in the increasingly global community in which we live, the custom of FGM is often brought over with migrants who move to Europe or the United States. Most health professionals are not equipped to deal with victims of FGM and often express disgust or fear in front of women who seek help. The reality is they are not trained or equipped to deal with the ramifications of FGM. Many women suffer silently for years and the issue is further compounded by the fact that many minority women feel uncomfortable talking about their genitalia as well as that communities that conduct this practice often do so in secret. The model and campaigner Waris Dirie aptly expressed "If a white girl is abused, the police come break down the door. If a black girl is mutilated, nobody takes care of her," reflecting the need for Western communities to have better interventions. 

The news that FGM was being practiced by licensed medical professionals in the UK upset and shocked many. However, these practices have most likely been going on for many years under the table. In London, private clinics on Harley Street offer vaginal hymen sewing for women whose cultures forbade them to have sex before marriage; this is done legally under the guise of vaginal cosmetic surgery. FGM remains illegal in the United Kingdom. However, until there is support for women to access non-biased treatment and services that help them out of debilitating cultural customs, underground practices of this traumatic custom will continue.