By Clodagh Meaney
(Photo Credit: James Akena/Reuters - "Prisca Korein, a 62-year-old traditional surgeon, holds razor blades before carrying out female genital mutilation on teenage girls from the Sebei tribe in Bukwa district, about 357 kms (214 miles) northeast of Kampala, December 15, 2008")
Today is International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation. On February 6th every year, the United Nations' sponsored annual awareness day seeks to support the UN's efforts to eradicate Female Genital Mutilation.
Female Genital Mutilation, or FGM for short, is the intentional alteration of female genital organs for non-medical reasons. The procedure involves the total or partial removal of external female genitalia. The practice has no health benefits and is a human rights violation.
Usually carried out by traditional circumciser, the practice is most common in regions of Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Migrants from these areas also carry out the custom, making FGM a global concern.
It tends to be carried out on girls from birth to age 15.
Complications include excessive bleeding, fever, shock, injury to genital tissue and infection. Long term, the practice can lead to urinary, menstrual and vaginal problems, and even death.
The reason why Female Genital Mutilation is carried out can vary from region to region based on cultural factors among families and communities.
According to the World Health Organisation, across the regions where it is most concentrated, more than 200 million girls and women alive today have been mutilated.
As more and more countries outlaw the practice, UNICEF is taking action to eliminate it completely by 2030. In a statement, they said:
"At the regional level, we need institutions and economic communities to work together, preventing the movement of girls and women across borders when the purpose is to get them into countries with less restrictive female genital mutilation laws.
"Locally, we need religious leaders to strike down myths that female genital mutilation has a basis in religion. Because societal pressures often drive the practice, individuals and families need more information about the benefits of abandoning it."
The HSE reports that since 2011 there are 3,780 women living in Ireland who have undergone the procedure. A recent survey from the European Institute for Gender Equality suggests that the number of people at risk of FGM in Ireland is between 158 and 1,632. According to Action Aid, that number is in around 2,700.
Not only is it illegal to carry out Female Genital Mutilation in Ireland, but it is also illegal to bring someone to another country for the procedure.
Dr Caroline Munyi, who grew up in Kenya, told the Irish Times in 2018 that "It is happening here and girls are being taken out of Ireland to be cut". Dr Munyi has worked with Action Aid to raise awareness, and change mindsets on the issue. She also brought the programme to three direct provision centres to work directly with some of the most at-risk migrant families.
The HSE provides a free FGM after-care service for anyone who may have undergone mutilation. It operates from the Everywoman Clinic as part of the Irish Family Planning Agency in Dublin City Centre.