Female genital mutilation (FGM), also called female circumcision, is the ritualistic removal of all or part of a girl’s genitalia for non-medical reasons. It is usually performed in infancy or early childhood as a rite of passage but is performed on teens and adult women as well. The practice is most common in the northern regions of Africa and in some countries in the Middle East and Asia, but it is illegal in many nations. Some sources report that over 90 percent of women over the age of 15 in countries such as Egypt, Somalia, and Sudan were mutilated as children. Other places where female genital mutilation is practiced include Ethiopia, The Gambia, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Mali, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Yemen.
Female genital mutilation differs greatly from the common practice of male circumcision, as female genital mutilation has no health benefits, is far more invasive, and causes later health and sexual problems. Female genital mutilation involves the cutting or removal of the labia and the removal of part or all of the clitoris, and it is often performed without anesthetic or antiseptic. The origins of this vicious practice are unclear, but archeologists have uncovered Egyptian mummies that appear to have been so mutilated. Ancient historical reports suggest that female genital mutilation was being inflicted on women as early as the fifth century BC.
In cultures where women are viewed as property or as inferior to men, female genital mutilation is considered a way to promote virginity and marital fidelity because it usually makes sexual intercourse extremely painful. Depending upon the extent of the mutilation, female genital mutilation can even render some young women unable to engage in marital relations or have a baby without a second cutting. Female genital mutilation is usually performed by an elderly family member, a birth attendant, or in some cases a healthcare provider. The healing process can take months, and many times the savage wounds never heal completely. In addition to the psychological trauma suffered by girls old enough to remember the event, female genital mutilation also commonly causes urinary problems, infections, menstrual difficulties, pain during intercourse, childbirth complications, and, in some cases, death.
In some cultures, religion may play a part in this ritual, but female genital mutilation does not have any direct religious ties. None of the world’s major religions promote it, including Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism. However, this barbaric act has become so deeply entrenched in many societies that those who dare question it are ostracized. In those cultures, female genital mutilation has become synonymous with purity, modesty, and beauty and is generally supported by both men and women. In some circles, a woman who has not undergone this procedure is considered dirty and unmarriable. Since women do not have many options other than marriage in those societies, female genital mutilation is thought by parents to be necessary in order to find husbands for their daughters.
The reasons for female genital mutilation are mainly cultural. Every culture has its own standards for acceptability and attractiveness. Tattoos and body piercing have become popular in America. Elongated necks are desirable in some areas of Thailand, while tiny feet were considered feminine in China until the practice of foot-binding was outlawed in 1912. Circumcision for males was instituted by God in Genesis 17:10–12 as a sign of the covenant God made with the Israelites. The difference between cultural body mutilations and God’s command for male circumcision was that the former harms the body while the latter protects it. There is no benefit whatsoever to any girl who undergoes female genital mutilation. Instead, it sets her up for a lifetime of sexual fears at best and an early death at worst.
Female genital mutilation is one example of human depravity and the lengths to which we will go to fit into our culture rather than follow the laws of God. Only when a nation or people group learns to honor and obey the living God do its cultural practices begin to honor life and benefit humanity. The ultimate solution for eradicating female genital mutilation forever is to spread the gospel and make disciples of every nation (Matthew 28:19). When hearts change, cultural practices change, and wickedness is seen for what it is (2 Corinthians 5:17).