Definitions and Terms for Female Genital Mutilation

Types of Female Genital Mutilation

The World Health (WHO) classifies FGM into four types:

Type I

involves the excision of the prepuce with or without excision of part or all of the clitoris.

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 or narrowing of the vaginal opening, also known as infibulation. This is the most extreme form and constitutes 15 per cent of all cases. It involves the use of thorns, silk or catgut to stitch the two sides of the vulva. A bridge of scar tissue then forms over the vagina, which leaves only a small opening (from the size of a matchstick head) for the passage of urine and menstrual blood.

Type IV

includes pricking, piercing or incision of the clitoris and/or the labia; stretching of the clitoris and or the labia; cauterisation or burning of the clitoris and surrounding tissues, scraping of the vaginal orifice or cutting (Gishiri cuts) of the vagina and introduction of corrosive substances or herbs into the vagina.

Terms for FGM: why 'Female Genital Mutilation' and not 'female circumcision'?

There are a number of different terms used to refer to the practice of Female Genital Mutilation, the most common ones being:

  • female circumcision, and
  • female genital cutting (FGC).

FORWARD chooses to use the term 'Female Genital Mutilation' as we believe it most accurately depicts what women affected by FGM have undergone, emphasising the gravity of this abuse of women's human rights. For these reasons, worldwide and especially amongst anti-FGM activists, there is an increasing tendency to use the term FGM.

FORWARD is particularly opposed to use of the term female circumcision, which implies that it is the female equivalent of male circumcision. Whilst FORWARD is opposed to genital mutilation or circumcision of any kind, FORWARD rejects the term female circumcision as it does not depict the true nature of FGM and implies that the practice and the consequences of FGM are far less severe than is the case.

Traditional and local terms for FGM

CountryTerm used for FGMLanguageMeaning
EGYPTTharaArabicDeriving from the Arabic word 'tahar' meaning to clean / purify
 KhitanArabicCircumcision - used for both FGM and male circumcision
 KhifadArabicDeriving from the Arabic word 'khafad' meaning to lower (rarely used in everyday language)
ETHIOPIAMegrezAmharicCircumcision / cutting
 AbsumHarrariName giving ritual
ERITREAMekhnishabTigregnaCircumcision / cutting
KENYAKutairiSwahiliCircumcision - used for both FGM and male circumcision
 Kutairi was ichanaSwahiliCircumcision of girls
NIGERIAIbi / UgwuIgboThe act of cutting - used for both FGM and male circumcision
 SunnaMandingoReligious tradition / obligation - for Muslims
SIERRA LEONESunnaSoussouReligious tradition/ obligation - for Muslims
 BondoTemeneeIntegral part of an initiation rite into adulthood - for non Muslims
 Bondo / SondeMendeeIntegral part of an initiation rite into adulthood - for non Muslims
 BondoMandingoIntegral part of an initiation rite into adulthood - for non Muslims
 BondoLimbaIntegral part of an initiation rite into adulthood - for non Muslims
SOMALIAGudiniinSomaliCircumcision used for both FGM and male circumcision
 HalalaysSomaliDeriving from the Arabic word 'halal' ie. 'sanctioned' - implies purity. Used by Northern & Arabic speaking Somalis.
 QodiinSomaliStitching / tightening / sewing refers to infibulation
SUDANKhifadArabicDeriving from the Arabic word 'khafad' meaning to lower (rarely used in everyday language)
 TahoorArabicDeriving from the Arabic word 'tahar' meaning to purify
CHAD - the NgamaBagneUsed by the Sara Madjingaye
Sara subgroupGadjadapted from 'ganza' used in the Central African Republic
GUINEA-BISSAUFanadu di MindjerKriolu'Circumcision of girls'
 Fanadu di OmiKriolu'Circumcision of boys'
GAMBIANiakaMandinkaLiterally to 'cut /weed clean'
 KuyangoMandinka Meaning 'the affair' but also the name for the shed built for initiates
 Musolula KaroolaMandinkaMeaning 'the women's side' / 'that which concerns women'

Other FGM-related terms and definitions

Angurya cuts:

A form of FGM type 4 that involves the scraping of tissue around the vaginal opening.

Clitoridectomy:

Refers to excision of the clitoris.

De-infibulation

(sometimes known as or referred to as deinfibulation or defibulation or FGM reversal): The surgical procedure to open up the closed vagina of FGM type 3.

Excision:

Refers to removal of the clitoral hood, with or without removal of part or all of the clitoris.

Infibulation or Pharaonic circumcision:

Refers to FGM type 3 (see above), the most extensive form of FGM.

Re-infibulation

(sometimes known as or referred to as reinfibulation or re-suturing): The re-stitching of FGM type 3 to re-close the vagina again after childbirth (illegal in the UK as it constitutes FGM).

Sunna:

the traditional name for a form of FGM that involves the removal of the prepuce of the clitoris only. The word 'sunna' refers to the 'ways or customs' of the prophet Muhammad considered (wrongly in the case of FGM) to be religious obligations. Studies show however, that the term 'sunna' is often used in FGM practicing communities to refer to all forms of FGM, not just FGM that involves only the removal of the hood of the clitoris.

FORWARD, 2006.

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