The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines FGM as ‘all procedures involving partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female organs for non-medical reasons’.  It is also known by a variety of other terms including: ‘cutting’, ‘female circumcision’, ‘initiation’ or by terms specific to practicing communities like ‘Gudnin’ (Somali), ‘Tahur’ (Sudanese) and ‘Sunna’ (various).

The procedure is usually carried out on girls aged between 4 and 10 years old. There can be severe ongoing health conse- quences for the girls as a result of the procedure, ranging from shock to haemorrhage and severe infection.


The issue is complicated by the fact that the term FGM encompasses a range of different practices and is understood differently in different communities.  However, the WHO classifies FGM into four different types:

  • Clitoridectomy (type I) – partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals) and, in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris)
  • Excision (type II) – partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (the labia are “the lips” that surround the vagina).
  • Infibulation (type III) – 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.
  • Other (type IV) – all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.

FGM is recognised internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women.  As described by the WHO:

“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” (WHO 2014).