Three million girls each year undergo female genital mutilation, the partial or total removal of their external genitalia. More than 125 million women and girls living in Africa and the Middle East have endured the procedure, with 30 million girls at risk over the next decade. The ritual is just as destructive on a young girls’ future as it is on her most intimate body parts.
Cynthia Breilh, one of the founders of Strong Women, Strong World, has worked with World Vision’s efforts throughout Africa to end FGM and other forms of child abuse. In an interview with World magazine, Breilh said the practice comes from a misguided understanding of womanhood: “FGM is tied to marriage—marriage has long been the only future for girls in many countries. Girls themselves, and very often their mothers, do not think they are marriageable without being circumcised.”
Also called female circumcision, this practice involves an unsterilized cutting object, no anesthesia, and a high risk of infection and death. Girls who survive this ceremony often have chronic urinary tract infections, other infections, cysts, infertility and life-threatening complications in childbirth.
But the traditional practice of female genital mutilation is graducally declining in some parts of Africa, according to a recent report by the United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Younger women are less likely to have undergone the procedure than women in previous generations, and they are less likely to support it for their daughters.