Female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as female cutting, is a harmful practice that violates the human rights of women and girls. FGM perpetuates negative gender based stereotypes, infringes on children's right to special protections, and results in serious physical and psychological health consequences.
International human rights bodies identify FGM as a practice that jeopardises the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls and call upon all states to enact measures for its abandonment.1
The World Health Organisation defines FGM as any procedure that involves the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs, for non-medical reasons.
FGM has serious health consequences.
Short term health consequences can include haemorrhage, infections such as tetanus and HIV, failure of the wound to heal, urine retention, injury to adjacent tissue, fracture and dislocation of limbs, or death as a result of the above. Long term health consequences can include painful sex, recurrent urinary tract infections, painful periods, potential trauma during childbirth, infertility, incontinence and difficulty urinating, chronic pelvic inflammatory disease, sexual dysfunction and psychological trauma.
While the exact number of women and girls worldwide who have undergone FGM remains unknown, at least 200 million women and girls in 30 countries have been subjected to the practice.2 In Ireland, it is estimated that 5,277 women and girls have experienced FGM.[i] This represents an increase of roughly 1,500 on the previous estimate of 3,780 women and girls.[ii]
Relevance of FGM in Ireland
As women and families from countries with high prevalence of FGM continue to migrate to Ireland, there is a corresponding need for appropriate health services and policies. Women and girls who have undergone FGM have specific sexual and reproductive health needs. As a service provider and a women's health advocate, the IFPA is committed to improving sexual and reproductive health services for women and girls who have undergone FGM.
National Plan of Action to Address FGM
In 2008, the IFPA brought together a Steering Committee of several stakeholders and experts to advise on the development of a National Plan of Action to address the issue of FGM. In consultation with the Steering Committee, Ireland's First National Plan of Action to Address FGM was researched, written, published and launched by the IFPA. Its goals are as follows:
In May 2016, AkiDwA, the national network of migrant women living in Ireland, launched a follow-on document, Towards A National Action Plan to Combat Female Genital Mutilation 2016-2019.
FGM and the Law
FGM is illegal in Ireland under the Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation Act) 2012. This legislation was the culmination of several years of efforts by the Steering Committee from the National Plan of Action to Address FGM. Under the Act, it is a criminal offence for a person living in Ireland to perform FGM or to take a girl to another country to undergo FGM. The maximum penalty is a fine of up to €10,000 or imprisonment for up to 14 years or both.
FGM Treatment Service
Legislation on FGM is vital, but it is only one aspect of a sustainable strategy that will be effective in fully eliminating the practice. Other necessary components of a preventive strategy include sustained and strategic education, awareness raising and provision of comprehensive care to women who have undergone FGM, as identified in the National Plan of Action to Address FGM.
To meet this need, in 2014, the IFPA opened Ireland's first FGM Treatment Service. Based in our Dublin city centre clinic, the service offers free specialised medical care and counselling to women and girls who have experienced FGM.
From the experience gained through this service, the IFPA aims to develop best practice guidelines and protocols for a national clinical response to the issue of FGM in Ireland.
[i] Luk Van Baelen, Livia Ortensi & Els Leye (2016): Estimates of first generation women and girls with female genital mutilation in the European Union, Norway and Switzerland, The European Journal of Contraception & Reproductive Health Care, DOI: 10.1080/13625187.2016.1234597
[ii] FGM: Information for Healthcare Professionals Working in Ireland (AkiDwA, 2nd Edition, June 2013)