Mental Health Effects on FGM survivors

In this blogpost I will be focusing on the prevalence of psychiatric illnesses such as PTSD, depression, anxiety disorder and other mental illnesses in survivors of female genital mutilation. I will be focusing mainly on a study performed by Alice Behrendt and Steffen Moritz, Ph.D on Senegalese women to prove the correlation between FGM and mental illness. I will also draw upon two different journal entry from American Journal of Psychiatry. One journal entry focuses on unpacking a series of 10 studies based on mental illness and FGM, and the other focuses on the silent mental scarring survivors endure. I also draw from a research blog for an opinion from the Western World (UK) and a research article for a different opinion from Iraq. I quickly touch upon other policy papers and studies to emphasize the impact of the correlation of psychiatric illnesses and female genital mutilation.

The process of Female Genital Mutilation is physical scaring for young women and girls worldwide. As described in my peers blog “Medical Impacts of Female Genital Mutilation on Childbirth and Maternity”, FGM is the practice of removal of all or part of the external female genitalia for non-medical purposes. The illegal practice carries significant physical health ramifications including an increased chance of postpartum hemorrhage, HIV and shock. But, the practice also carries significantly painful mental health consequences.

According to a study conducted on 23 Senegalese women in Dakar who were victims of FGM, and 24 who were not. The study was the first to formally prove what experts have hypothesized for years; women that fall victim to FGM are at a higher risk then the general population of developing psychiatric illnesses. The results study on the 23 Senegalese women showed that to be true. 30% of these women had prevalent Post Traumatic Stress Disorder with accompanying memory problems, and 47.9% showed symptoms of psychiatric syndromes. The experts who performed the study attribute the higher risk of mental illness to the trauma these women endured during FGM.

After this study, many more of the kind came out connecting to what the original said; there is a definite correlation between mental health and FGM, specifically due to the trauma endured. Numbers between studies have varied from PTSD in victims being at as high of a rate as 44%, that’s up to 7 times higher than in the average young woman. But, no matter what the rate actually is, data has almost always proved that the risk is higher for mental illness for those who had endured the pain of FGM.

In many countries and cultures, PTSD, anxiety, depression, and somatic disturbances (unexplained mental disorders whose symptoms show as physical), are not treated due to strong stigmas and negative, harmful attitudes within religions and/or cultures, or fear from individuals. For a Western example, many doctors and psychologists have been treating patients with FGM trauma as if they endured cultural practice. New guidelines are being set into place by World Health Organization to treat patients with physical or mental FGM scars as victims of abuse. This attempt helps fight the stigma that victims of female genital mutilation should feel ashamed for the trauma they endured, which in turn helps fight the fears and stigmas that stop these women from getting help for mental illnesses.

There is a very clear, very direct correlation between psychiatric illnesses and the trauma that young women who fall victim to FGM practices world wide have to endure. Now, it is a global responsibility to acknowledge that and fight the stigmas and fears that stop women from getting the help they need, and let them continue to silently suffer mentally, emotionally and physically.



Female Genital Mutilation – Not Just a Problem for Africa

This blogpost is about Female Genital Mutilation, specifically the practice in Eurocentric, Westernized countries. Many people believe FGM is only a practice found in Africa/ “developing” nations, but by using 2 news articles, one large-scale European one (BBC-The first ever FGM figures show nearly 6,000 new cases in England), and the other a smaller news source from the Arab world (Nature Middle East- Bringing to life the case against female genital mutilation), I will shed light on FGM happening in westernized countries. By using these sources for individual stories and using a scholarly article (Healthcare in Europe for Women with Genital Mutilation), I further delve into how culture and immigration has brought FGM to the western world. Using a policy paper (UNICEF’S data work on FGM/C), I found helpful statistics about FGM and the silent, painful practice all over the world.

         When we as a society think about FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) we think about a cultural practice taking place predominantly in Africa and what the Western world deems as “developing” nations. But, how true is that fact? 680,000 women in Europe endure the painful and illegal process of FGM practices, but only a handful of people executing this practice are prosecuted. 

        FGM is, in some cultures, a traditional cultural practice that includes partially removing or fully removing a pubescent girls’ external genitalia for reasons that are non-medical. This is seen by many as a necessity to raising females, and motivated by societal beliefs for controlling sexual behavior within young girls. The practice has no medical benefits, and can in fact, cause harm later in a women’s life. Many countries including Chad,  Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, South Africa, Tanzania, Canada, Europe, and America have outlawed the practice and try to prosectue those doctors who subject young girls to the painful practice. Interestingly, France has also started cracking down on FGM and on top of prosecuting the doctor they also prosecute the parents.

       Although government officials have been cracking down on FGM to protect their girls, nobody is being charged. It seems that the governments of many Westernized countries are just sweeping FGM under the rug and pretending it doesn’t happen, though in places like the UK, where the practice has been illegal since 1985, authorities have been unable to successfully prosecute even one case. But, that doesn’t mean it’s not happening, according to a study by Equality Now and City University in 2015, around 103,000 women and children were living with FGM in the UK. 

     Many times, people immigrate from their home country for a multitude of reasons, war, financial instability, as a refugee, seeking better education, and the list could go on. When said people come to the new country, they often bring their cultures with them. That is how Female Genital Mutilation came to be practiced in places like the UK and other parts of the Western world. Nut, many cases of FGM in Westernized countries aren’t acknowledged because theres a common social stigma that something like genital mutilation would never happen in the “developed” world, so, many women continue to suffer from the harmful side effect of the practice silently.

     There’s also another stigma and a stereotype attached to Female genital mutilation. The practice of FGM carries lots of stereotypes, including that it’s a ‘savage and dangerous practice’. But, what about similar genital plastic surgery alterations made for non-medical reasons performed in Eurocentric countries by doctors. Why is FGM only savage and dangerous and illegal when performed in third world countries? Why is one version of a fairly similar surgery looked upon highly while the other is condemned? Why does society allow plastic surgery to exist, but ignore the existence of FGM as a worldwide problem, not just a problem for developing countries?

      These questions and stigmas are necessary for us as a global society to face, advocate for, and attempt to solve in order to create a better, safer, healthier world for all girls and women, regardless of what culture is or where they live.