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Understanding FGM and its impact

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Female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as female genital cutting, is defined by the WHO as the range of procedures which involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.1

The term 'mutilation' emphasises its gravity and linguistically establishes a clear distinction from male circumcision. However, at the community level, this term can be problematic. The term 'cutting' is more culturally appropriate. Table 1 lists the four major types of FGM.

Justifications for supporting FGM are numerous. While they may vary across communities, they follow a number of common themes: social acceptance, marriageable status, chastity, health, beauty and family honour.2 There is also a mistaken belief that it makes childbirth safer for the infant.3

It is estimated that more than 125 million girls and women have undergone some form of FGM, predominantly in 29 countries across Africa and the Middle East. A further 30 million girls are thought to be at risk of being cut in the next decade.2

Approximately 103,000 women aged 15 to 49 and approximately 24,000 women aged over 50 who have migrated to England and Wales are living with the consequences of FGM. In addition, approximately 10,000 girls aged under 15 who have migrated to England and Wales are likely to have undergone FGM.4

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