What is FGM

Definition

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines female genital mutilation (FGM) as “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs whether for cultural or other non-therapeutic reasons.”

FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children. The practice also violates a person's rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.

The technical descriptions of the different types of female genital mutilation known to be practised are as follows:

WHO - Technical Classification of Female Genital Mutilation

Type I

Clitoridectomy: partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce.

When it is important to distinguish between the major variations of Type I mutilation, the following subdivisions are proposed:
Type Ia, removal of the clitoral hood or prepuce only.
Type Ib, removal of the clitoris with the prepuce.

Type II

Excision: partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora.

When it is important to distinguish between the major variations that have been documented, the following subdivisions are proposed:
Type IIa, removal of the labia minora only
Type IIb, partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora
Type IIc, partial or total removal of the clitoris, the labia minora and the labia majora

Type III

Infibulation: narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the inner, or outer, labia, with or without removal of the clitoris.

When it is important to distinguish between the major variations that have been documented, the following subdivisions are proposed:
Type IIIa, removal and apposition of the labia minora
Type IIIb, removal and apposition of the labia majora

Type VI Other:  All other harmful procedures to the female
genitalia for nonmedical purposes includes pricking, piercing, or incising of the clitoris and/or labia; stretching of the clitoris and/or labia; cauterization by burning of the clitoris and surrounding tissues; scraping of tissue surrounding the vaginal orifice (angurya cuts) or cutting of the vagina (gishiri cuts); introduction of corrosive substances or herbs into the vagina to cause bleeding or for the purposes of tightening or narrowing it; and any other procedure that falls under the definition of female genital mutilation.
Source: World Health Organization (2014) Female Genital Mutilation Fact sheet N°241 

Many other terms are used to describe FGM, the most common being female circumcision (FC) and female genital cutting (FGC). The use of these terms is discouraged in a clinical setting, particularly the term FC as it is anatomically incorrect and provides a misleading analogy with male circumcision. FGM is an appropriate term for medical use and the recommended term for use at policy level as defined by WHO.

When working with communities affected by FGM however, the term female genital mutilation may cause offence and should generally be avoided. When referring to FGM, it is more appropriate to use terms that women and their families are familiar with.