The history of FGM is not well known but the practice dated back at least 2000 years. It is not known when or where the tradition of Female Genital Mutilation originated from. It was believed that it was practised in ancient Egypt as a sign of distinction amongst the aristocracy. Some believe it started during the slave trade when black slave women entered ancient Arab societies. Some believe FGM began with the arrival of Islam in some parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Some believe the practice developed independently among certain ethnic groups in sub-Saharan Africa as part of puberty rites. Overall, in the history, it was believed that FGM would ensure women’s virginity and reduction in the female desire.
Many commentators believe that the practice evolved from earliest times in primitive communities that wished to establish control over the sexual behaviour of women. The Romans performed a technique involving slipping of rings through the labia majora of female slaves to prevent them from becoming pregnant and the Scoptsi sect in Russia performed FGM to ensure virginity.
The practice is supported by traditional beliefs, values and attitudes. In some communities it is valued as a rite of passage to womanhood. (for example in Kenya and Sierra Leone) Others value it as a means of preserving a girl’s virginity until marriage, (for example in Sudan, Egypt, and Somalia) In most of these countries FGM is a pre-requisite to marriage and marriage is vital to a woman’s social and economic survival. It is believed by some African women that if their daughters are not circumcised would not get husband. This (FGM) harmful tradition has been guided by taboos from generation by generation.
FGM is rooted in culture and some believe it is done for religious reasons, but it has not been confined to a particular culture or religion. FGM has neither been mentioned in the Quran nor Sunnah.
It has been highlighted that FGM was practised in the United Kingdom and United States by the Gynaecologists to cure women of so-called “female weakness” The practice of FGM continues within some communities in various form and even in the 20th century girls and women are still subjected to this harmful tradition.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is the current terminology used by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and is familiar to most Health Care Professionals. The term “female circumcision” is inappropriate as it implies that the procedure is analogous to male circumcision when in fact a much more extensive amount of tissue is removed. Women themselves may however refer to it as circumcision. The word “mutilation” although accurate can be seen as judgemental and can be offensive and in some situations the term Female Genital Cutting is a more sensitive term to use.