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Female Genital Mutilation

The term FGM covers three main varieties of genital mutilation:

1. "Sunna" circumcision, meaning “traditional,” consists of the removal of the prepuce and/or the tip of the clitoris.

2. Clitoridectomy (also referred to as excision) consists of the removal of the entire clitoris (both prepuce and glans) and the removal of the adjacent labia.

3.Infibulation (also referred to as pharaonic circumcision), is the most extreme form, consisting of the removal of the clitoris, the adjacent labia (majora and minora), and the joining of the scraped sides of the vulva across the vagina, where they are secured with thorns or sewn with catgut or thread. A small opening is kept to allow passage of urine and menstrual blood. An infibulated woman must be cut open to allow intercourse on the wedding night and is closed again afterwards to secure fidelity to the husband.

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The World Health Organization has classified FGM into four types:

Type I - Excision of the prepuce, with or without excision of part or all of the clitoris.

Type II - Excision of the clitoris with partial or total excision of the labia minora.

Type III - Excision of part or all of the external genitalia and stitching/narrowing of the vaginal opening (infibulation).

Type IV – Unclassified which includes pricking, piercing or incising of the clitoris and/or labia; stretching of the clitoris and/or labia; cauterization by burning of the clitoris and surrounding tissue.

FGM is currently illegal in most countries. The United Nations, UNICEF, and the World Health Organization have considered FGM to be a violation of Human Rights and have made recommendations to eradicate this practice.

In the United States, Congresswoman Patricia Shroeder introduced H.R. 3247, a bill to outlaw FGM in the United States in the fall of 1994. The bill was then combined with The Minority Health Initiatives Act, H.R.3864. This bill was then combined with H.R. 941 on February 14, 1995, which was to be cited as the "Federal Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation of 1995.” The bill passed in September 1996.

The U. S. law can be found in The U.S. Code, Title 18 – Crimes and Criminal Procedure, Part I - Crimes, Chapter 7 – Assault and can be viewed at http://www.access.gpo.gov/uscode/title18/parti_chapter110_.html,along with the Declaration of the First International Symposium on Circumcision at http://www.nocirc.org/declare.html
FGM is prohibited by law in Tanzania. The law is not effectively enforced, however, and the practice of FGM continues openly. If you'd like to take action to help stop this practice in Tanzania, visit Equality Now.

For additional information on FGM, visit the following sources:

  • Feminist.com
  • Stop Excision
  • FGM Network
  • http://www.jhuccp.org/pr/j41/41fgm.stm
  • Afrol.com