Female genital mutilation is an umbrella term used to describe any procedure performed on the female genitalia for cultural or religious reasons rather than because there is a medical indication or need, e.g., gender reassignment surgery. It is now frequently referred to as 'female genital cutting' because of cultural sensitivity of the emotive word of 'mutilation'. Not only does the word demonise the practice in the eyes of those outside of that culture, but also practitioners of female genital cutting dislike the implication that they are mutilating their daughters.

'Female circumcision' has fallen out of use as a term to describe female genital cutting as it places a parallel with male circumcision (the removal of the foreskin from the penis). While genetic integrity groups will argue that both are genital mutilation, male circumcision is a commonly accepted practice across most cultures, while female genital cutting is not.

It is practiced in many countries across the globe, but is more commonly associated with the African continent. It is a cultural practice, not a religious one. There are different forms of female genital cutting; some are more acceptable practices than others, but unfortunately all are perceived with the same negativity as the more extreme versions of female genital cutting. Sometimes the act of female genital cutting is merely symbolic, with a knife held over, but not touching, the genitalia; or a drop of blood from a needle allowed to fall onto the clitoris.

The World Health Organisation has classified the various types of female genital cutting into four categories:

Type I: Excision of the prepuce with or without excision of part or all of the clitoris. Often this is limited to the clitoral hood being cut, which is analogous to the removal of the foreskin from the penis. This is particular procedure is called a clitoridotomy. If some of the clitoris is also removed, then it called a clitoridectomy. Both clitoridotomies and clitoridectomies (and sometime infibulation) were commonly practiced in western cultures, including the UK and the US, until the 1970s as a treatment for masturbation and nervous disorders. Clitoridotomies are now once again becoming popularly performed as part of body modification practices in the west.

Type II: Excision of the prepuce and clitoris together with partial or total excision of the labia minora.

Type III: Excision of part or all of the external genitalia and stitching/narrowing of the vaginal opening. This is called infibulation, and is viewed as the most extreme version of female genital cutting.

Type IV: This contains the unclassified forms of female genital cutting, including:

  • pricking, piercing or incision of clitoris and/or labia
  • stretching of clitoris and/or labia
  • cauterization by burning of clitoris and surrounding tissues
  • scraping (angurya cutting) of the vaginal orifice or cutting (gishiri cutting) of the vagina
  • introduction of corrosive substances into the vagina to cause bleeding or herbs into the vagina with the aim of tightening or narrowing the vagina
  • any other procedure which falls under the definition of female genital cutting.


Please refer to the individual nodes for more information on these practices.