What is it?


A ritual practiced by certain peoples on the African continent. A surviving tradition* dating back thousands of years. It is the mutilation of the female reproductive organ, performed at a very early age, usually out of habit and following a harmful tradition.

* Tradition: “opinion or belief or custom handed down, from ancestors to posterity, esp. orally or by practice.” (Oxford English Dictionary)

The ritual is organised by the women, mothers, grandmothers and aunts who are responsible for maintaining the tradition. Frequently, several circumcisions take place simultaneously, in a festive context. The young girls are held down, the circumciser, a respected and well-paid professional, performs the mutilation, often with an old razor blade, a piece of glass or a knife. The wounds are covered with various products and the girls’ legs may be bound for several days, so that urine flows over the affected area and revives the pain. The circumcised girls now conform to the group’s rules.

The origin of this tradition is ancient and obscure.

The most likely hypothesis is attributed to ancient Egypt from the writings of Herodotus in 450 BC and X-ray examinations of mummies.

Probably a desire to control the fertility of the nobility led to the practice of infibulation. The primary purpose of female circumcision seemed to be the control of sexual desire, especially among servants.

This tradition was later exported to the Horn of Africa and then spread throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

The encounter of cultures, traditions and religions has led to the current belief system and to certain variants. In particular, many of the countries involved went on to adopt the Muslim religion. Although Islam does not support female circumcision, it has not forbidden it either, and in public opinion confusion has set in. Recently, official representatives of Islam have publicly condemned the practice.

With migration and populations moving beyond the African continent, the tradition was exported to host countries, among native populations. This situation has contributed to raising awareness and sparking international efforts to eradicate this tradition, which is now recognised as harmful and dangerous.

The decryption of an old tradition is still a difficult exercise. It often tells us as much about the practice in question as the values of the observer.

The social staging of the body, in various forms, is practiced by all societies, and this behaviour is rooted in the origins of human cultures.

Bodily practices ranging from pigmentation and ornamentation to scarification, deforming sheaths, rings extending parts of the body, inlaid inclusions and pendants are practiced in all societies to varying degrees.

The highlighting and manipulation of the apparent differences between men and women is also used as a hierarchical element in all societies, in many different ways.


FGM – Female Genital Mutilation
Deliberate mutilation – of the female genitalia – done for ritual purposes.

Amputation of the external part of the clitoris. May be accompanied by partial or complete amputation of minor and/or major labia.
The amputation of the clitoris is always limited, because the maze of veins that surrounds the organ at a depth of up to 2cm can cause death by haemorrhage if cut.

Partial closure of the vaginal opening

These mutilations are performed under ritualised conditions, and with a complete absence of medical hygiene. This results in pain, infections, bleeding and, of course, intense psychological trauma.

Circumcision and infibulation can be performed separately or at the same time. The importance of this mutilation varies by region and practitioner.

Pharaonic Circumcision
Joint practice of infibulation and circumcision. This name reveals the probable historical origin of these traditions in ancient Egypt.

Another ancient tradition affecting male genitalia, which involves removing the foreskin. Practiced on the eighth day after birth by Jews and later by Muslims. The consequences are much less harmful.

Removal of the clitoral hood only. Is similar to male circumcision. Uncommon.

Female practitioner of this ritual, executed in a professional capacity.

The men of the regions concerned are actively involved in maintaining this tradition, as they see an “uncut” woman as unfit for marriage. The performance of the tradition is, however, entirely handled by women.

The ritual is usually performed on girls at an early age, usually between 2 and 5, sometimes younger, other times on adolescents.