Female genital cutting (FGC) has many names around the world. It is known as female genital mutilation (FGM), female circumcision, sunna, khatna, excision, and many others. Regardless of what name you use for the practice, FGC is a human rights violation and a form of gender based violence. This practice is global in scope and cuts across class, race, ethnicity, country, education level, and religion. Worldwide more than 200 million women and girls have been affected by FGC.

The World Health Organization defines FGC as all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. There are four main types of FGC[1]

  • Type 1: Often referred to as clitoridectomy; this is the partial or total removal of the clitoris or in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).
  • Type 2: Often referred to as excision; this is the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora
  • Type 3: Often referred to as infibulation; this is the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the labia minora, or labia majora, sometimes through stitching, with or without removal of the clitoris (clitoridectomy).
  • Type 4: This includes all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.
FGC is performed for a variety of reasons across the world. The practice dates back centuries in some countries and communities. Some cultures and communities perform the procedure to mark a girl’s passage into womanhood and full membership in her community as an adult. Others do it to ensure a daughter’s marriageability, as FGC can be a physical indication and proof of her virginity because Type 3 prevents intercourse without physical preparation. Other communities perform it because they believe it is prescribed by their religion. There are cultures who do it to decrease a girl’s sexual desires and preserve family honor by ensuring their daughter is not being promiscuous. Within individual families, the decision may be based on their community’s beliefs, or they will have the procedure done to their daughters because of extreme pressure from family or friends: they could be ostracized if they do not continue the practice.
There are numerous emotional and physical consequences of the practice. Some immediate and short term impacts could be: severe pain; excessive bleeding; infections; urinary problems; shock; and death. In the long term, consequences can include: infertility; obstructed miscarriage and complications during childbirth; obstructed menstrual and urinary flow; fistulas; and pain and decreased satisfaction during intercourse.

FGC affects almost every country in the world, including the U.S. In 1996, FGC became a crime under federal law (18 U.S. Code § 116) and punishable by up to five years in prison. In 2013, there was an amendment made to the law making it illegal to transport a girl overseas with the intent to perform the procedure, which is commonly known as ‘vacation cutting’. Additionally, there are currently 26 states with their own legislation prohibiting the practice. In late 2015, the U.S. government decided to help combat FGC further and released funding through the Office of Women’s Health for organizations to address the issue in a variety ways and among different communities.

BRYCS, through USCCB/MRS, applied and was granted funding to work on this issue on a national scale, and with an emphasis on refugee communities who have traditionally practiced the procedure. This project, Community Conversations: Collective Voices for Improving the Care and Reducing the Risk of FGC, aims to decrease the likelihood that currently impacted refugee communities will continue this practice and improve the practical response of service providers who may encounter a girl or woman who has undergone FGC or is at risk, such as health and medical practitioners, educators, child and family services, and those working directly in refugee resettlement.

To achieve these goals, BRYCS is partnering with local Catholic Charities resettlement agencies to consult with the impacted communities to better understand the scope of the practice and engage the refugee community in crafting and promoting the messaging and resources designed throughout the project. Additionally, BRYCS will develop interactive educational resources on FGC, for refugee, stakeholder and practitioner audiences, including a dual-generation handbook for mothers and daughters to talk about this subject.

BRYCS believes there are positive alternatives to this practice that communities can use to achieve their desired outcomes for their daughters’ lives and will use this project to promote and encourage these alternatives. BRYCS also believes that women and girls who have undergone the procedure deserve competent, sensitive care throughout their life course.

Stay tuned for a supplemental blog from a resettlement agency who is participating in the Community Conversations project!