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Health Effects of FGM

Health Effects of FGM

Health implications of FGM

FGM is traditionally carried out by women who are often not medically trained. FGM is also now being practised by trained medical personnel including midwives, nurses or doctors. No matter the method or who is performing FGM, the practice could still lead to serious health consequences.

FGM can result in physical and emotional problems, and sometimes death. These can be short-term or long-term. Examples of health problems include:

Physical complications:

  • Extreme pain: FGM is often performed without any anaesthetic. Girls can go into shock because of extreme pain and stress.
  • Severe bleeding: This is caused by damage to blood vessels. In some cases this can lead to death.
  • Risk of infection: An unclean environment (i.e. the use of blades that are not sterile and traditional methods for healing the wounds), may cause serious infections such as tetanus or even HIV.
  • Difficulty in passing urine and menstruation: due to fear of passing urine or damage to the urinary tract and/or reproductive organs.

Psychological complications:
Studies show that FGM may affect a woman psychologically for the rest of her life. Some psychological effects include:

  • Anger at the person who performed FGM or arranged for FGM to be carried out.
  • Emotional distress, fear and feelings of helplessness
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder: symptoms can include flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety and depression for a long time after FGM.
  • Sexual Phobia: resulting in fear and difficulties in having sex.
  • Feelings of not being a ‘whole’ or a ‘normal’ girl or woman may be felt by some girls/women because of FGM.
  • Because the clitoris is so sensitive, a woman’s sexual pleasure is greatly decreased by its removal. This can have negative effects in a marriage and in sexual relations. However, FGM does not take away sexual desire. This is because sexual relations are more than physical; feelings such as love, passion and companionship are also important for pleasure.

Not all girls and women who have undergone FGM experience health problems. Others may not be aware of these problems, or may not perceive them to be unusual or related to FGM, especially if they occur many years after the procedure. In the same way, not all health practitioners may link these health problems to FGM, especially if they do not know that the patient has undergone FGM.

It is very important that if you have undergone FGM that you tell your nurse or GP if you are having any problems, infections or pain, so that you can get the right help and support.

In some places it may be that a health professional is the one performing FGM – this is still problematic, and in the UK illegal. FGM is harmful regardless of how it is performed. Although having FGM done in the hospital would reduce the risk of infections and help to dull the pain, physical and psychological complications could still happen. This is because the effects of FGM do not only occur during the procedure but continue throughout a woman’s life. According to the World Medical Association, health professionals swear an oath not to do any harm to their patients, therefore it is considered unethical for health professionals to perform FGM on girls or women.