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Saud Abu-Dayyeh visits the family home and holds a picture of Soheir al-Batea, who died at 13 due to complications associated with FGM, Aga, Egypt, November, 2013. (Equality Now)
FGM Harms Girls Medically and Emotionally
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The world needs to take urgent action to end female genital mutilation (FGM) says a leading advocate for stopping the practice.

“FGM is a hugely harmful violation of a girls’ rights. It causes major medical and psychological harm. We do not know how many girls have died from it, but many have.”

The comments come from Mary Wandia in a VOA interview. She is FGM program manager for Equality Now, which works to stop the practice.

The harm done by female genital mutilation is expected to get attention Tuesday on International Women’s Day. Sponsors say the day is designed to build opportunities for women, including in education and medical care.

A United Nations report issued last month said 70 million more girls and women are victims of female genital mutilation than previously thought. It said at least 200 million girls and women in 30 nations have been mutilated.

FGM is the cutting, sewing or destruction of a female’s genitals. It is practiced by various religions and cultures. It has been practiced for centuries.

It causes severe pain and prolonged bleeding, infection, infertility and even death, the UN report said. Broadcast reports show girls writhing in pain and shock. The mutilation is typically done without pain relief.

By most who practice it, FGM is believed to control female sexuality and increase fertility. However, doctors have long disputed this view. Medical researchers in Sudan found that girls who went through the procedure were more likely to be infertile.

Last September, the UN set a goal of ending the practice by 2030.

Cultures in the Nile River Valley in Egypt and Sudan have practiced FGM, but it is more widespread.

One reason for the higher numbers is that the UN reported numbers from Indonesia for the first time. Half of Indonesian girls aged 11 and younger have undergone the practice, according to the UN.

Immigrants to other countries where FGM is not practiced often return their girls to their home country to have FGM.

Wandia said the most success in stopping the practice is “where governments have shown leadership.”

Wandia said Kenya reduced FGM rates for teenage girls to about 11 percent. By comparison, half of adult women have had FGM, she said.

Liberia and Burkina Faso are also reducing FGM, Wandia said.

But she said progress is offset by population growth.

Wandia said some countries, notably Liberia, Mali, Sudan and Sierra Leone, have not banned the practice.

“Countries such as Egypt and Indonesia must prevent doctors and other health workers from carrying it out,” she said.

In her interview with VOA, Wandia said it is time for the world “to make sure that we finally get to grips with this extreme form of violence against girls.”

“We cannot have any more excuses,” she said.

Somalia has the highest rate of female genital mutilation, the UN said. It affects 98 percent of the female population between the ages of 15 and 49. Guinea and Sierra Leone also have very high rates.

I'm Bruce Alpert.

Bruce Alpert reported on this story for VOA Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.

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Words in This Story

genital n. of or relating to the sexual organs

mutilation n. the act of tearing up a person’s body parts

psychologicaladj. of or relating to the mind

opportunityn. an amount of time or a situation in which something can be done

infertilityn. not able to reproduce

writhingv. to twist your body from side to side because of severe pain

reliefn. the removal or reducing of pain

gripsn. getting control of a problem

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