By Bergen Cooper, Senior Policy Research Associate and Beirne Roose-Snyder, Director of Public Policy
The practice of female genital cutting (FGC), also called female genital mutilation (FGM) or FGM/C, is a human rights and gender equality issue. FGC violates a host of human rights principles including non-discrimination on the basis of sex, the right to bodily integrity, the right to life, and the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. But, FGC also is a sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) issue and as such should be included in programs and policies that address maternal health, reproductive health, family planning, and HIV prevention, treatment, and care.
Ending FGC is an important and necessary priority for organizations, governments, advocates and women and girls globally. While we continue to work on ending FGC, we must also collectively address the lives of women and girls living with FGC today. According to UNICEF, there are an estimated 133 million women and girls around the world who are living with the effects of FGC – that’s more women and girls than the entire populations of the United Kingdom and France combined. These 133 million women and girls have serious sexual and reproductive health needs that are too often overlooked.
Addressing FGC as an SRHR issue means that organizations or government agencies that singularly focus on STIs/HIV, maternal health, reproductive health, or family planning must incorporate FGC within programming, policy development, and advocacy efforts. All of us – advocates, NGOs, and governments – bear responsibility for addressing FGC as an SRHR issue and we must work together to ensure that FGC is integrated within all aspects of health care for women and girls. FGC is a contributing factor to maternal mortality, infertility, and obstructed labor. Girls who have been cut have increased HIV risk factors such as being more likely to have older partners and more likely to have their sexual debut before the age of 20. FGC can lead to an increased risk of bacterial vaginosis which has been associated with an increased prevalence of herpes.
And, let’s be frank, acknowledging FGC as an SRHR issue means talking about sexual rights, sexual health, and also about sex. Cutting the genitals of a woman or girl has an impact on her ability to pursue sexual pleasure. FGC leads to an increased risk of painful intercourse. FGC has been shown to affect women’s sexual function including lowered arousal, desire, orgasm, and lubrication.
This matters. The sexual lives and desires of women matter. Twenty years ago, at the Fourth World Conference on Women, in Beijing, China, the world acknowledged and affirmed that every individual has a right to pursue a satisfying sexual life. The practice of FGC violates this right.
In order to protect, respect, and fulfill the human rights of women and girls who have undergone FGC we must work collectively across maternal health, reproductive health, family planning, and HIV to address FGC as an SRHR issue. Now is the time for collective and collaborative action. That’s why CHANGE is proud to work with partners like Orchid Project, Advocates for Youth, the International Center for Research on Women, and Pathfinder International to advocate for the rights of women and girls who have undergone FGC.
FGC must be addressed across all SRH health programs and services for women and girls in order to provide the comprehensive care they need and ensure their right to the most satisfying and safe sexual and healthy lives possible.