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Female Genital Mutilation- An unrevealed perplexity

The practice of Female Genital Mutilation (hereinafter FGM) is against dignity of women and human rights. In some countries of Africa, it is a crucial element for social acceptance and considered as a measure for preserving the virginity. WHO, in much report has elucidated the harmful consequences and its undesirability. This procedure is in existence because of continuation of the custom from generation to generation. The author here wants to analysis the conflict between cultural custom and fundamental rights. How the unnecessary pain can be abandoned by the realization of basic rights? How can it be eliminated by spreading awareness among the masses and implementing policies? The topic is not much discussed and thus the author is willing to uncover this camouflaged matter.

The world is still slightly patriarchal and witnesses many crimes against women. Some of them are sexual harassment, rape, domestic violence, women trafficking, stalking, and cybercrime against women. Moreover, there is also an activity carried on from generations in the name of custom and is against humanity, which is Female Genital Mutilation. The practice is in existence as tradition. The mentioned matter is not much discussed in common parlance and people are not much aware about it. The practice is mostly prevalent in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.[1]

On discussing about FGM, it is practice which involves total or partial removal of external female genital organs or tending to create harassment and unnecessary injury to females for non-medical purposes.[2] Reports by WHO, states that on assessment even more than 200 million girls and women alive currently, have been victim of this repugnant procedure in those countries. Adding to this, another estimation says that 3 million girls are under the peril of being prey of female genital mutilation annually. Even before 15 years of age, the females are harmed because of this practice[3].


The reasons behind the origin of this evil practice as stated by United Nation Population Fund, is to indicate the man-oriented society and superiority of males over females. It has been a social norm in the areas where it is concentrated. A major cause of FGM is to create an authority over women’s sexuality, to preserve virginity before marriage and to intensify the male sexual pressure during consummation of marriage.

Myths also exist in these societies that FGM can ease fertility and child survival during pregnancy. Furthermore, some consider the external genital female organs dirty, thus they tend to believe its removal can help to increase bodily hygiene. The practice is also perpetuated in the name of religions. Another important cause of this is that, it is considered as an important criterion for marriageability. Female literacy rate being quite low in these regions, thus women are dependent on male economically and has to persist this indispensable condition for marriage.[4]


The female genital mutilation has detrimental consequences on the women and thus society in a way. The practice can affect the women physically for short term or even long term duration. Immediate effects of FGM, can be elaborated in the following ways. Cutting and piercing such sensitive genital part of body can have dangerous ramifications like severe pain and difficulty. Damaging the area with very high blood flow and blood vessels, could lead to extreme bleeding. And this trimming can also be abode to various germs resulting into numerous infections and swelling of the genital area. Conducting the act can also have impacts on urinary organs and its system. [5]

It has also many long term repercussions. And incredulously, some incidents have forced to think on the interconnection between FGM and HIV. Albeit the relation has not been proved yet. But studies infer that the instrument used for this cutting is not sterilized and thus can augment the probability and risk of HIV for the victims of FGM. Thus, the world must realize the practice persisting for preserving the tradition of people in those countries is harming the women and costing them their lives. The other long duration outcome of this is menstrual problems, obstetric and childbirth complications, somatic illness, sometimes urination problems last forever, difficulty in sexual sensitivity, sexual health and overall well-being of women.[6]

Moreover, the practice has hazardous mental and psychological effects which could be beyond treatment. Researches have proved that females who are victimized of FGM have chances to push them into dangerous state of mind like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), some anxiety disorders, and women can encounter even depression.[7] WHO mentions it as “No health benefit, only harm”.

WHO for the first time came up with the economic analysis of FGM.[8] It stated the data that, the cost on lives of women with FGM is nearly USD 1.4 billion every year. The tradition of FGM puts extra load on economies of those countries because of health and medication expenses. WHO has categorized the consequences into “gynecological, obstetric, urological, mental and sexual.” Thus, the practice is hampering every related sector.[9]


Now, moving toward a very significant topic, which is FGM being violation of basic rights of an individual, which we commonly called as Human Rights. Every individual has a right to live a dignified life. United Nations Commissioner for Human rights elucidate human rights as,

Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, language, or any other status. We are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination.[10]

Human rights are the basic rights inherent by all the individuals, these are rooted on the notions like dignity, equal treatment, reverence, fairness and freedom. And procedure of FGM is in contradiction of all these concepts. And this practice tends to make the life of women miserable. It interrupts the dignified life for women. It promotes gender discrimination and male dominant status, which in result makes life of women disrespectful. Creating troublesome situation for females infringes the principle of fairness and also their freedom. Thus, FGM is considered as violation of human rights globally.

Meanwhile, when the tradition is continued on female children, it also infringes rights of children because they do not consent for the same and if they assent to it under force or pressure by the society in name of social acceptance, they are not sensible enough to know the outcomes and consequences. FGM also contravenes individual’s rights to health, physical integrity, security, the right against exploitation and cruelty, brutal behavior, and an important one, that is right to life when the tradition leads into death. Thus, FGM is highly unacceptable and undesirable from Human Rights Perspective.


Looking them from jurisprudential angle, inference can be drawn that the issue of FGM brings a severe conflict between customs and intrinsic rights of individual. There has been incidents where customs do not match with the existing society. The sociological school of jurisprudence states that society evolves and law should adapt itself accordingly. And traditions which continues from time immemorial do not have any alteration and modifications to stand with pace of the society. Because may be the customs were appropriate for that era of society. Therefore, the customs which are hamper the human interest and welfare should be curtailed.


Thus, the United Nations has recognized elimination of Female Genital Mutilation as a Sustainable Development Goal which is to be achieved by 2030.[11] And the concerned issue can be resolved only by spreading awareness about it and its outrageous results. UN and its organs are incessant with the referred task. For this, community programs, social welfare programs, work by welfare organizations is mentioned by UN. Other than these, education should be promoted, it can be panacea for this as well as many other social problems. Empowering education can be conducted in the form of training, imparting knowledge and information about human rights, sexual and also reproductive rights. The nature of education should be of such nature that it could change thought process of the society.[12] The target year is just a decade away and it can only be accomplished by enlightening people about this problem and its outcomes.


[1] Female Genital Mutilation, WHO, (July 18, 2020, 7: 22 PM), https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/female-genital-mutilation

[2] Id.

[3] Female Genital Mutilation, WHO, (July 17, 2020, 11: 22 PM), https://www.who.int/health-topics/female-genital-mutilation#tab=tab_1

[4] Female genital mutilation (FGM) frequently asked questions, UNFPA, (July 17, 2020, 5: 36 PM), https://www.unfpa.org/resources/female-genital-mutilation-fgm-frequently-asked-questionscan_be_condemned

[5] Health risks of female genital mutilation (FGM), WHO, (July 18, 2020, 12: 38 PM), https://www.who.int/sexual-and-reproductive-health/health-risks-of-female-genital-mutilation

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] The economic cost of female genital mutilation, WHO, (July 19, 2020, 10: 33 PM), https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/06-02-2020-economic-cost-of-female-genital-mutilation

[9] Id.

[10] Your Human Rights, OHCHR, (July 18, 2020, 8: 12 PM), https://www.ohchr.org/en/issues/pages/whatarehumanrights.aspx

[11] Global Sustainable Development Report 2019, UN, (July 19, 2020, 9:56 AM), https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/24797GSDR_report_2019.pdf

[12] Eliminating Female genital mutilation, WHO, (July 20, 2020, 1:44 AM) https://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/csw/csw52/statements_missions/Interagency_Statement_on_Eliminatig_FGM.pdf


This blog has been authored by Likhita Agrawal who is a 3rd Year B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) student at Maharashtra National Law University, Nagpur.


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