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What is female genital mutilation?

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Types of female genital mutilation: excision and infibulation

The United Nations has recognized female genital mutilation as a violation of human rights that threatens the health, safety and even the lives of victims. In Canada, although we have no reliable statistics on the subject, there is no doubt that the problem exists. In this country, survivors of these mutilations are members of the migrant population. In fact, being at risk of or having undergone this procedure are accepted grounds for seeking asylum in Canada. It is estimated that there are currently 200 million girls and women in the world who have been subjected to female genital mutilation.

What exactly is female genital mutilation?

The World Health Organization has identified four types of female genital mutilation. These include partial or total removal of the clitoral glans and labia minora (excision), the narrowing or partial sealing of the vaginal opening (infibulation), as well as any other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes. These mutilations a further manifestation of violence against women. (In this context, note that “woman” designates female anatomy, not gender identity.)

Possible consequences

The consequences of this type of mutilation are many and varied, over both the short and long term. Immediate complications are primarily of a biological nature (pain, bleeding, fever, urinary problems, shock, and even death). Long-term consequences are both biological (urinary and vaginal problems, sexual problems, increased risk of childbirth complications, etc.) and psychological (post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, loss of self-esteem, etc.).

Reappropriating the body through reconstructive surgery

It is important to know that female genital mutilation is not always irreversible. There are surgical procedures that allow the re-exposition of the clitoris (clitoral transposition) and vaginal deinfibulation. Re-exposition of the clitoris is usually requested in order to improve sexual function, raise self-esteem and reclaim one’s body. Deinfibulation consists in reopening the vaginal seal of a woman who has undergone infibulation. This operation is often necessary to facilitate sexual intercourse and childbirth, but also improves women’s well-being and overall health.

Support resources

Help is available for those who have undergone female genital mutilation as well as for those who are offering them support. Assistance for victims ranges from psychosocial support to medical accompaniment. Specialized training may be offered to counsellors and practitioners.