Classification of female genital mutilation
Female genital mutilation has no known health benefits. On the contrary, it is known to be harmful to girls and women in many ways. First and foremost, it is painful and traumatic. The removal of or damage to healthy, normal genital tissue interferes with the natural functioning of the body and causes several immediate and long-term health consequences.
For example, babies born to women who have undergone female genital mutilation suffer a higher rate of neonatal death compared with babies born to women who have not undergone the procedure. Women with FGM have increased risk of stillbirth, infants requiring resuscitation and low birth weight babies. FGM is estimated to lead to an extra one or two perinatal deaths per 100 deliveries.
Communities that practice female genital mutilation report a variety of social and religious reasons for continuing with it. Seen from a human rights perspective, the practice reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women.
Female genital mutilation is nearly always carried out on minors and is therefore a violation of the rights of the child. The practice also violates the rights to health, security and physical integrity of the person, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.
Classification of FGM (2008)
Female genital mutilation comprises all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons (WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA, 1997).
The WHO/UNICEF/UNFPA Joint Statement classified female genital mutilation into four types. Experience with using this classification over the past decade has brought to light some ambiguities. The present classification therefore incorporates modifications to accommodate concerns and shortcomings, while maintaining the four types. In addition, sub-divisions were created, to capture more closely the variety of procedures, when necessary.
Although the extent of genital tissue cutting generally increases from Type I to III, there are exceptions. Severity and risk are closely related to the anatomical extent of the cutting, including both the type and amount of tissue that is cut, which may vary between the types.
Type IV comprises a large variety of practices that does not remove tissue from the genitals. Though limited research has been carried out on most of these types, they appear to be generally less associated with harm or risk than the types I, II and III, that all consist of removal of genital tissue.
Complete typology with sub-divisions:
- Type I — Partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce (clitoridectomy).
- 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 — Partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (excision).
- 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.
- Note also that, in French, the term ‘excision’ is often used as a general term covering all types of female genital mutilation.
- Type III — Narrowing of the vaginal orifice with creation of a covering seal by cutting and appositioning the labia minora and/or the labia majora, with or without excision of the clitoris (infibulation).
- Type IIIa, removal and apposition of the labia minora; Type IIIb, removal and apposition of the labia majora.
- Type IV — All other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, for example: pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterization.