Psycho-sexual health of FGM survivors

Psycho-sexual health of FGM survivors


How does FGM affect mental health and wellbeing?

Health is defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” (WHO, 2018) The WHO also underlines that being exposed to traumatic events during childhood has a crucial importance on mental well-being. It defines mental health as follows:
“A state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community. With respect to children, an emphasis is placed on the developmental aspects, for instance, having a positive sense of identity, the ability to manage thoughts, emotions, as well as to build social relationships, and the aptitude to learn and to acquire an education, ultimately enabling their full active participation in society” (WHO, 2018, p.7)

In studies on the links between FGM and mental health, women having undergone type I and type II FGM and those having undergone type III (infibulation), are often distinguished. WHO includes consequences on mental health and well-being in “FGM sanitary risks” and identify within the psychological risks post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxious disorders and depression (WHO, 2018).

In 2018, in it’s guidelines on the management of health complications from FGM (WHO, 2018) as well as in it’s clinical guideline (GAMS Belgium, 2020), the WHO emphasized the importance of adopting a holistic approach and bringing psychological support to women in need.

Furthermore, the scarce development of mental health system and psychological support in some countries, above all in Africa, have imposed an important limit to our research and explain why our data and analysis focus more on Europe. Indeed, more studies, therapies and solutions are developed in Europe and the situation is very different in Africa where it is harder to find services and reports on this matter.

The purpose of this thematic note is to discuss the psychological consequences of FGM, present the current solutions and highlight what is at stake. If it is possible to identify psychological consequences directly linked to FGM, it is crucial to understand this event in the larger context of a women’s life path and a broader social, cultural, economic context which also influences mental well-being. This dimension has to be integrated into solutions put in place and / or recommended to cover FGMs psychological complications and resolve a main issue, namely (re)construct a positive self-image and (re)connect with others. Finally, there is still much to be done to enhance psychological support to women and girls affected by FGM and to offer them support which is adapted to their needs.

Two Web conferences (Webinars) were organized within the frame of this thematic discussion, one in English and one in French. In the first Webinar, on June 9th 2020, Farzana Doctor (Canadian-Indian psychotherapist and writer) and Venoranda R. Kuboka (Kenyan youth therapist) shared their views on mental health, wellbeing and FGM. Venoranda addressed the issue both in terms of the mental health of FGM survivors themselves and of therapists and anti-FMG activists who support survivors. Farzana, who is from the FGM-practicing Bohra community, shared her personal healing journey as a FGM survivor and her perspective as a therapist.

Find the recording below, and the summary of the webinar here.

  • Amref, 78 Girls Graduate into Womanhood without “the cut”. Access here
  • Amref, 2019 (a), 545 Girls Graduate to Womanhood without the Cut in Kajiado County. Access here
  • Amref, 2019 (b), Voices the Community as they embrace the Alternative Rite of Passage in place of FGM. Access here
  • Amref, 2018 (a), 287 Girls Graduate from Childhood to Womanhood wihtout « The Cut ». Available here
  • Amref, 2018 (b), Local communities should take ownership of war against FGM. Available here
  • Amref Canada, Stop Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Start the Alternative!, Access here
  • Cook S., 2018, Guest Blog for 28TooMany: Feed the Minds, Do ARP approach work?, Access here
  • Graamans E.P. et al., 2018, PanAfrican Medical Journal: Lessons learned from implementing ARP in the fight against FGM/C, Access here
  • Hughes L., 2018, Alternative Rites of Passage: Faith, rights, and performance in FGM/C abandonment campaigns in Kenya, Access here 
  • Oloo H., Wanjiru M., Newell-Jones K., Population Council 2011. “Female genital mutilation practices in Kenya: The role of alternative rites of passage. A case study of Kisii and Kuria districts.”, Access here 
  • UNFPA-UNICEF, 2017, Annual Report of the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme to End FGM/C: Accelerating Change 17 ways to end FGM/C : Lessons from the field. Companion booklet to the 2016, Access here
  • UNFPA,World Bank, 2004, Female Genital Mutilation / Cutting in Somalia, Acces here
  • Nailantei N., 2018,Rope in elders and traditional healers to lead the fight against female cut, Access here
  • Video: Alternative Rites of Passage to Womanhood: Celebrating girls without “the cut” 

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