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Female genital mutilation (FGM)

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a procedure carried out on girls and young women/people with a vulva which involves removing some or all of their external genitals. Find out more about FGM, including how to seek help.

Content Warning

This page contains discussion of female genital mutilation (FGM), at some points going into detail about what this involves, which may be distressing for some readers.

What is FGM?

Female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as cutting or female circumcision, is a procedure carried out on girls and young women/people with a vulva, which involves removing some or all of the external genitals for any reasons other than genuine medical necessity. FGM has no health benefits, and is harmful in many ways. It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and interferes with the natural functions of people’s bodies.

FGM is illegal in the UK, and it’s also illegal to take someone out of the country to make them have FGM in a country where it isn’t against the law. The maximum sentence for carrying out FGM, or helping it to take place, is 14 years in prison. Read the government’s statement opposing FGM.

Despite this, the charity Equality Now estimates that 137,000 women and girls who live in the UK have been affected by FGM. Globally, over 200 million girls and women around the world have had FGM, according to UNICEF.

Get help

If you are worried that you might be at risk of FGM, or that someone you know might be, it’s really important to speak to someone you trust, like a teacher or a doctor. There are also lots of organisations which can help and you will always be taken seriously. Call the NSPCC’s FGM helpline on 0800 028 3550 or email fgmhelp@nspcc.org.uk.

Speak to someone

If you’ve had FGM, you might feel unsure of who to talk to, or how to talk about it. It’s important to know that there is lots of help and support available, beyond just medical or emergency help.

It’s normal for people to feel unsure of who to talk to if they have had FGM; they might feel like it’s not allowed, or find it difficult to have conversations about. However, if you have experienced FGM it can be important and helpful to talk to someone about it and seek support, beyond just emergency or medical help. There are lots of organisations who can help you process your experience in a therapeutic and healing way, and places you can connect with people who have had similar experiences.

Find organisations who can help

Why does FGM happen?

Sometimes religious, social and cultural reasons are given to justify FGM; some people think it is medically necessary, or that it improves people’s chance of getting married. However it’s a dangerous practice and can cause long-lasting health problems that continue throughout a person’s life, including:

  • Incontinence or difficulties urinating
  • Frequent or chronic vaginal, pelvic or urinary infections
  • Painful or problematic periods
  • Kidney damage and possible kidney failure
  • Cysts and abscesses
  • Pain during sex
  • Infertility
  • Complications during pregnancy and childbirth
  • Loss of sensation in the clitoris and/or vagina
  • Emotional and mental health problems

Find out more from the NHS.

Who is at risk?

The people most at risk of FGM in the UK are girls and young women/people with a vulva who come from or who have strong family links to countries where FGM is common. They might have been born in another country and have come to live in the UK, or they might have been born in the UK and have parents who are originally from another country.

It doesn’t matter where someone was born, though – no one has the right to force anyone to have FGM.

The age at which FGM is carried out varies. It may take place:

  • when a baby is newborn
  • during childhood or adolescence
  • just before marriage
  • during pregnancy

Find out more from the NSPCC.

If you’re even the smallest bit worried, about yourself or about another person, please talk to a trusted adult or contact a specialist organisation. Alternatively you can contact the NSPCC’s FGM helpline on 0800 028 3550 or email fgmhelp@nspcc.org.uk.

The different types of FGM

All types of FGM are illegal in the UK, and in many countries around the world.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has come up with the following system for naming the different types of FGM:

Type 1

Clitoridectomy
Removal of some or all of the clitoris and/or the clitoral hood (the fold of skin that surrounds the clitoris).

Type 2

Excision
Removal of some or all of the clitoris and the inner labia. Sometimes the outer labia are removed as well.

Type 3

Infibulation
The narrowing of the vaginal opening using stitches. The inner and outer labia may also be removed. This type of FGM often causes problems with urinating (weeing) and having periods, as there is only a small gap for liquid to pass through.

Type 4

Other
Any other harmful procedures to the vulva and/or vagina for non-medical purposes, such as pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing (burning with a hot object).

Visit the WHO website for more information.

If you’ve had FGM

Many of the physical side effects of FGM can be made less severe with treatment from doctors and nurses. For instance, a surgery called deinfibulation can be performed to open up the vagina, if necessary.

If you’ve had FGM, you don’t need to be embarrassed or scared about looking for help. You won’t be in trouble, regardless of your age, and you won’t have to say who did it to you if you don’t want to. It’s your right to get the proper treatment for it, and it can be really important for your health and wellbeing.

Seek support
Read about living with FGM

What should I do if I’m pregnant?

FGM can cause complications during pregnancy and childbirth. If you are pregnant and have had FGM, either recently or a long time ago, then you should speak to your midwife so they can arrange appropriate care.

Get Help

If you are worried that you might be at risk of FGM, or that someone you know might be, it’s really important to speak to a trusted adult, like a teacher or a doctor.

You could also visit a sexual health service, such as Brook, and speak confidentially to a sexual health nurse.

The NHS provides specialist healthcare for people who have had FGM. If it’s available where you live, they can arrange this for you.

Childline

You can talk to Childline online or by calling 0800 1111 about how you’re feeling and what you might like to do next. They can also help you get any medical advice or treatment you might need.

NSPCC Helpline

The NSPCC has a dedicated FGM helpline on 0800 028 3550. They can support both professionals or family members concerned that a child is at risk of, or has had FGM.

FORWARD

FORWARD (Foundation for Women’s Health Research and Development) is an African women-led organisation that provides advice, one-to-one support and signposting to other services for African women and girls/people with a vulva affected by any form of violence, including FGM. They can also provide signposting to other organisations that can help someone who is at risk of, or has experienced FGM. You can contact FORWARD on 0208 960 4000 or visit the FORWARD website.

Daughters of Eve

Daughters of  Eve is a non profit organisation that works to advance and protect the physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health rights of young people from FGM practising communities. Visit the Daughters of Eve website.

FGM National Clinical Group

The FGM National Clinical Group is a UK-based charity dedicated to working with women/people with a vulva who have been affected by FGM and other related difficulties. Visit the FGM National Clinical Group website.

The Dahlia Project

The Dahlia Project is a specialist service for women who have undergone FGM, run by the Health Advocacy Service in partnership with the Maya Centre and Manor Gardens, Islington, London. Visit the Dahlia Project website.

Women discuss their personal experiences of FGM

In this NHS video, journalist and broadcaster Susan Bookbinder talks with four women about how they would like to see professionals hold sensitive conversations about female genital mutilation (FGM), including what actions to take to safeguard vulnerable girls.

Trigger warning

This content contains a description of female genital mutilation.

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