Time for change: the harms of female genital cutting
Female genital cutting (FGC) – also known as female genital mutilation (FGM) or female circumcision – is widely practised in Africa and has been described by UNICEF "one of the worst violations of the Convention on the Rights of the Child”. And rightly so. It is usually performed on girls between the ages of four and eight, or as late as their first menstrual cycle.
It’s increasingly relevant to Australia because of the growth in migration of people from communities that practise FGC. In 2010, Melbourne’s Royal Women’s Hospital reported seeing as many as 700 women who had suffered some form of FGC.
There are three types of FGC, which range in severity from a clitoridectomy or removal of the clitoris (type 1); clitoridectomy and the additional removal of the labia minora (type 2); to pharaonic circumcision or full infibulation, which removes part of the labia majora too (type 3). Infibulation leaves nothing of the normal genitalia except for a wall of flesh from the pubis to the anus, except a pencil-size opening of the vulva to allow urine and menstrual blood to pass through.
In the latter case, the adult woman will often suffer reverse infibulation to allow for sexual intercourse; this may be performed by the husband using a knife on their wedding night.
During childbirth, the enlargement is too small to allow vaginal delivery and so the infibulation must be opened completely by enlarging the vagina with deep episiotomies (surgical cuts). Afterwards, the mother will often insist that what is left of her vulva be closed again so that her husband does not reject her, nor her friends and family ostracise her. (...)