Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Female Genital Mutilation: Cultural practices, historical moments, and medical issues

Alexandros Argyriadis
Agathi Argyriadi
Limassol, Cyprus

“6 February 2014. International Day of Zero Tolerance of Female Genital Mutilation.” UNICEF / Olivier Asselin via MONUSCO Photos on Flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as any procedure that involves partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.1 Female Genital Mutilation is a traditional practice, but is globally recognized as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. An estimated 200 million girls and women have already undergone FGM and an additional three million are at risk.1,2 The belief that this practice should be performed on all girls within a culture is in direct conflict with the idea that FGM is a violation of the human body.

FGM is often performed with the ascribed expectation that it will reduce sexual desire and nurture women for adulthood or marriage. This represents the realization of male control over the female body and perpetuates the conservative tradition that sexual desire is linked to ethics.3 FGM is a painful and traumatic experience that causes immediate and long-term health consequences. It can lead to excessive bleeding, swelling of genital tissue, and problems with urination. It also makes women prone to injury during childbirth.4

Another traditional belief is that FGM creates belonging through initiation, and that these girls and women will become role models for others in their communities. Another belief is that the procedure promotes cleanliness and hygiene. Young girls are misinformed that the uncircumcised vulva is “dirty” and will produce an offensive odor if not removed.5 They are also threatened with supernatural consequences in order to maintain virginity before initiation with FGM. Their status is confirmed by the initiators and families are acknowledged for a daughter’s preserved virginity.4 Virginal status and initiation by FGM are traditional requirements for a girl to be eligible for marriage in these cultures.6

Female Genital Mutilation is also believed to reduce libido, a further preservation of virginity before marriage. This is the justification for pre-pubertal initiation practiced by the Limba ethnic group of Sierra Leone, as well as the local belief that uncircumcised female genitals are considered less aesthetically pleasing.

A multi-factorial and collaborative approach would best address this global health issue. Education and a focus on literacy will increase awareness at the population level and spur research interest on social and behavioral change.


  1. World Health Organization 2012. “Understanding and addressing violence against women: Female Genital Mutilation” [Internet]. Geneva: World Health Organisation.
  2. Sakeah, Evelyn, et al. “Prevalence and factors associated with female genital mutilation among women of reproductive age in the Bawku municipality and Pusiga District of northern Ghana.” BMC women’s health 18.1 (2018): 150.
  3. Argyriadis, Alexandros. “The relation between health professionals and hospital education.” Cyprus Nursing Chronicles 17.2 (2017).
  4. Koski, Alissa, and Jody Heymann. “Thirty-year trends in the prevalence and severity of female genital mutilation: a comparison of 22 countries.” BMJ global health 2.4 (2017): bmjgh-2017.
  5. United Nations children’s fund. 2013. “Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A statistical overview and exploration of the dynamics of change”. Https://data.unicef.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/FGMC_Lo_res_Final_26.pdf.
  6. Alexandros Argyriadis. “The Historical Approach of Psychopaths in Greece: An Endless Effort of Seeking Therapy for the Different Other.” International Journal of Caring Sciences 10.1 (2017): 590.

ALEXAANDROS ARGYRIADS, BSc, BA, MA, PhD, has been an assistant professor and lecturer at the University of East London, the University of South Wales, the Hellenic Open University and the University of Thessaly, the University of Western Attica, Frederick University, and other well-known universities. He has authored many scientific articles, books, and presentations, is a reviewer for a variety of scientific journals, and member of conference scientific committees. He often teaches as an invited professor at universities abroad and designs modern interdisciplinary actions.

AGATHI ARGYRIADI, BA, M.Ed, MA, PhD, is a psychologist and lecturer in the Department of Psychology and Social Work at Frederick University. In the past she has also taught at Cyprus University of Technology, at the East London University, and at the Technological Educational Institute of Peloponnese. She worked as the psychologist for a project against violence at the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Hellenic Republic and has been a professor at the Foundation for Youth and Lifelong Learning and the Institute for Vocational Training of the Ministry of Education.

Fall 2019



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