Female Genital Mutilation

This is not safe for work, this is not safe for life, this is not safe in general. The following contains images of FGM and vaginas. If you do not wish to see these then please do not read further.

One of my more recent criticisms of A+ was over the value of photojournalism. In that we debated the Photographer’s Dilemma, do you take the photos or do you help.

My stance is to take the photo then attempt to help. I am heavily influenced in my photography by the War Photographers who told stories with their cameras. Of the Burning Girl and the Man Being Executed. Of the Fires of Iraq and Kuwait.

I grew up with war, I saw my first warzone aged 5 and my first refugee camp later that year. I will admit that my choice of career and upbringing gives me a harder stomach than most and that what others find as disturbing is probably really disturbing but an upbringiing tempered by warfare and medicine has made me innured to what other people may find squeamish.

What follows is an image and a discussion on Female Genital Mutilation. It is a complication of the procedure.

When we discuss why a medical condition should be made public particularly of genitals we forget that while people are squeamish, many will say that the usage of squeamish images is insulting to the victims.

My question is this.

How on earth are we to discuss a problem. How are we to discuss a procedure. How are we to discuss the damage caused.

How are we to do ANY of these things without knowing what it looks like? Hence my warning.

The image linked is gross, gory and to many it would be considered a variety of things that are bad. I would point out that without imagery like this we cannot train up the women and men who fight this dreadful practice. If you are offended by this then that’s your choice, but bear in mind there are people who live with the practice and this is something I have witnessed in the past. 

The image is not mine and lifted from a discussion on Reddit, I do not know the photographer.

It is behind a link so that those who do not wish to see the image do not have to click on the link.

To begin with, let’s discuss what constitutes FGM.

No Jokes! Shame on You!The fourth type isn’t depicted because it’s mostly voluntary or medical… Mostly

There are four classifications of FGM according to the WHO.

Type I – Clitirodectomy. It is the removal of the clitoris and the clitoral hood. Normally? There is only one indication for this procedure medically. Metastasis of cancer to the region may require removal of the clitoris.

Type II – Includes the type I procedure and removal of the inner labia.

Type III – Is called infibulations. It involves removal of the clitoris, labia and fusion of wound leaving a small hole for passage of urine and blood which is reopened for childbirth and intercourse.

Type IV – Miscellaneous acts such as symbolic pricking, piercing of clitoris and labia, cauterisation and cutting into the vagina to widen it or usage of corrosives to tighten the vagina. These are mainly considered medical practices and are done for a variety of conditions ranging from body piercing and fashion to disorders like sexual dysfunction due to a narrow vagina, vaginismus due to damage during childbirth, cancer and some plastic surgery. It is generally voluntary though some exceptions exist.

Type I and II are the most common. Type III is predominant in Sudan, Somalia and Djibouti. Type IV is seen across the world including voluntary FGM as seen in body modification and piercing circles in the west.Now I know I am going to get a lot of flak for pointing out that body modification and piercing circles undergo Type IV FGM, but this is the WHO classification of the act rather than mine. It’s also important to point out the difference between body modification and piercings where an individual volunteers to have the piercing when compared to someone who is forced or coerced into having it done. I have no issue with volunteers, it’s your body and if your happiness lies in putting metal through your genitals then godspeed you fancy bastards! The reason for it’s utilisation in this context is that NORMALLY in the context of the west Type IV is voluntary but there are some cultures where the practice is compulsory and is not as radical as Type I, II or III. In Malaysia for example Type IV is more involuntary than in the west.

But for these women it isn’t a choice. There is a cultural, social and religious peer pressure to get the procedure done.

This is seen as a cultural rite of passage. Religion merely co-opted it to fit to the local culture. In fact there are big drives with local Imams and Priests to stamp it out but it’s not succeeding because it’s a social pressure. This is how things have been done for thousands of years, it’s not going to vanish overnight because some man in a stupid hat says so.

There has to be a major cultural change and that’s hard to create because people simply don’t see what’s wrong with this.

Who do you think did the procedure? People who loved and cared for the young girl. This was not done out of spite but a genuine belief that this will help the young girl. Her mother and grandmother would have been proud and treated her like an adult. She may have cried during it but she probably would have been proud too.

That is the problem, you are fighting a practice that is blatantly harmful in our eyes that they don’t recognise because that’s the norm for them.

Not only does it defend a practice steeped in superstition and culture as a good thing, it also does so by invoking a divine mandate followed by a billion people across the world that isn’t prone to criticism and honest debate.Let’s face it, Islam does not like debate. When Christians complain that Muslims get a free ride from atheists, it’s mainly because muslims do have a small but significant minority who don’t listen to reason and who are quite happy to kill someone for their perceived involvement in an attack on their faith. It’s extremely hard to criticise someone who threatens you with death and acts on it. We see here a marriage of the worst attitudes of faith and woo. The perceived medical benefit married to the blind faith in a book written by someone who could not fathom our knowledge and understanding. This is deadly beyond comparison and it shows. The 1997 figure for FGM states that roughly 135 million women had undergone the procedure. The number certainly hasn’t gone down since there isn’t a big drive to halt the procedure. We can say a lot of things about the British Colonial period. A lot of horrible things were done by Great Britain across the world. But as most Indians will realise (even if they don’t like admitting it) Great Britain created India as a solid unified body. Without them? India would be a balkanised series of tiny countries and not the rising giant it is today. The erstwhile masters unknowingly created nationalism, they gave India the tools to set itself free from all masters be they gods or men even if Indians do forget that sometime. And one of the things the British did in India that I am sure most Indians are thankful for was to give a legal impetus to the Hindu anti-sati reforms. A coalition of Indian reformers and British lawmakers helped stamp out the practice. However, we see a similar move in Africa where in Kenya the British attempted to stamp out the practice through the church and law resulting in revolutions as many kenyans perceived a british plot to destroy local culture  to the point where the practice was actively defended as a Kenyan cultural issue. So what we see here is a genuinely destructive practice that people do consider unnecessary and bad but still do because it’s a symbol of culture.

So opposition to the practice has traditionally resulted in people being considered “un-African” or would cause the women who opposed it to become social pariah.

And it’s not absent in the west. Over 20,000 children are at risk each year in the UK and 65,000 women are believed to be living with the consequences of FGM. And this is the tip of the iceberg since the nature of FGM and the ideology makes it a hidden issue that is unlikely to see the light of a doctor’s office unless severe problems occur. Many of these kids have the procedure done over the summer holidays during trips abroad. There is also a rising fear that there are such ceremonies in the UK.

There is absolutely no health benefit to doing this this causes nothing but detriment to the women.

Immediate effects

  • Severe Pain
  • Shock
  • Haemorrhhage
  • Wound infections ranging from gangrene requiring major amputation and removal of the vagina to tetanus due to poor hygiene of blades. Septicaemia has occurred as well resulting in death. Other diseases include HIV and Hepatitis which can be transferred in mass ceremonies.
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Recto-Uterine/Vesico-Uterine/Vesico-Vaginal/Recto-Vaginal fistulae
  • Injury
  • Adhesion
  • Urinary retention
  • Trauma

This can lead to death.

Long-term consequences

  • Vaginal, Pelvic and Urethral Infections
  • Amenorrhea and Irregular Periods
  • Retention/Incontinence of Urine
  • Renal Failure
  • Infertility
  • Vaginosis
  • Scar Tissue
  • Painful Intercourse
  • Pregnancy complications
  • Improper dilation during pregnancy
  • Foetal and Maternal Deaths
  • Loss of pleasure during sex
  • PTSD
  • Low Libido/Anxiety
  • Birth Trauma
  • Adhesion may require late surgery

Things take time, things take money, things take effort, things take manpower, things take brave people making changes.

There are very few of these taking place. For those who wonder why Islam isn’t making any changes, You may as well ask why Christians are not eradicating the practice too. The practice is not religious but cultural. Religion just tries to excuse it to ingratiate itself with the local culture.

It takes a serious concerted and universal effort to get rid of this. It’s not just Mullahs and Imams, you need to get the health personnel, teachers and cutters themselves onboard with stopping the practice.

The pressures are both female and male. Men want “virgins” and this is a virgin guarantee. It is also a major rite of passage and is done by women. It’s not treated as a terrifying time in a child’s life but as a gigantic party involving the women.

So we have 3 parties to deal with. The Men who expect this. The Women who expect this. And the cutters. To destroy the practice we first need education where we can point out the ills of FGM. In addition we have to start changes in the expectations of men and the utilisation of women from the area to make changes and make NOT cutting a social option. Finally the cutters need to be taken on board and be given an alternative method of survival because at the moment it is in their vested interest to keep cutting and they have a better grasp of the culture and a more solid role in the social network in maintaining the culture of FGM. We need to make it monetarily superior to oppose FGM and utilise their role to eliminate their own practice.

That’s how you kill FGM, not by faffing about blaming Muslims. Because that’s not how change happens.


  1. says

    Female Genital Mutilation, Is Torture, not infant & young girls consenting to a gender reassignment ! This is so beyond climate change denial, you would think more people would be outraged, but come to think of it, most climate change deniers in the USA are conservative Christian, half I am sure are just to be anti-left/liberal, pretty much explains why any concern of non-conservative Christians would be seen as “left” and should be ignored or supported as “cultural”. So the “deniers” say: “I mean really, there is no Colonization in areas where money can’t be made, so what’s a few tens of thousands of infant girls and young girls getting their genitals mutilated? It’s not like abortion, or god forbid gay marriage.”

  2. Esteleth, [an error occurred while processing this directive] says

    There’s also the bit where (if you look at areas where FGM is prevalent) it’s practiced by the local Christians and the local animists at rates comparable to those of the local Muslims. Which is to say that – religious justifications or not – it is a cultural practice. I mean, if it were a religious practice, then you could reasonably expect that all (or most) adherents of said religion to practice it – but FGM is unheard (and seen with abhorrence) of outside of certain areas.

    If I understand various efforts that have been made to combat FGM, a multipronged approach is necessary:
    (1) Come up with a new coming-of-age ritual for the girls, to be celebrated as fervently.
    (2) Convince men that they can be satisfied of their wives’ chastity if they aren’t cut.
    (3) Convince people that uncut women aren’t dirty.
    (4) Convince people that cut women aren’t dirty either.
    (5) Find a new staus-conferring job (overseeing the new coming-of-age ritual, perhaps?) for the cutters to do.

    Honestly, the last thing anyone needs is cut vs uncut women going up against each other in a dirty/less dirty or more/less marriageable contest – both cohorts would ultimately end up losing.

  3. abear says

    Hi Avi. A little OT but you have mentioned again here your upbringing in a war zone. I am really curious. What war was that?
    Good post by the way, FGM is a horrible practice, hopefully it will be abandoned soon.

  4. Nick Gotts says

    A good article, but I’m rather puzzled by this:

    One of my more recent criticisms of A+ was over the value of photojournalism.

    It’s news to me that members or supporters of Atheism+ have a generally agreed position on photojournalism. Could you elaborate or link?

    corey montello@1,
    What on earth are you on about? What possible connection does this issue have with climate change denial, and who, if anyone, has ever said anything remotely like:

    I mean really, there is no Colonization in areas where money can’t be made, so what’s a few tens of thousands of infant girls and young girls getting their genitals mutilated? It’s not like abortion, or god forbid gay marriage.

  5. says

    @Nick Gotts:

    News to me, too. Seems like any time any individual who identifies as (is assumed to be?) A+ says something disagreeable, suddenly we all steadfastly and uncritically agree with the worst possible interpretation of that thing. It’s impossible to keep up with, really.

    I’m also curious to see that photojournalism exchange, by the way. That’s something I’d be incredibly hesitant to generalize about, but it’s not exactly something I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about.


    How are we to do ANY of these things without knowing what it looks like? Hence my warning.

    We can’t. It is necessary to have images. There may be some contexts where specific types of images are inappropriate, but I can’t imagine why anyone would think the one you’ve linked here shouldn’t exist. (I have this really bad habit of answering rhetorical questions. Sorry. But not really sorry.)

    If you are offended by this then that’s your choice

    Oh, is being offended a choice now? Everyone exerts some variable degree of control over their own emotional state, but you’re overstating the human capacity to will oneself (not?) to experience an emotion here. It may seem like a small point, but you’re doing a disservice by simply dismissing, in advance, anyone who gets offended by wrongly assuming that they’re using free will to choose to do so.

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