What is FGM/C?

FGM/C stands for “Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting”. The abbreviation covers all types of genital mutilation which are performed on girls and women. Genital mutilation is not only very painful but usually has significant physical and mental health consequences for the girls and women who are involved. These consequences are life-changing and require treatment.

Forms of female genital mutilation

There are four basic types of FGM/C. Depending on the type, the external clitoris, the clitoral hood or the inner and/or outer labia are fully or partially removed. The word “infibulation” is used to describe a procedure during which the vaginal opening is often almost completely sewn shut. The type of genital mutilation which is practiced depends on the region and community in which the girls and women live.

Forms of female genital mutilation

Have you been circumcised but don’t know what type of genital circumcision was performed?

A specialist female gynaecologist can explain exactly what was done to you.

Where FGM/C is practiced

The child welfare organisation UNICEF estimates that over 230 million women and girls around the world have undergone genital circumcision. FGM/C is particularly common in West, East and North-East Africa. The practice is also carried out in some Asian countries and the Middle East. Circumcision rates are very high in Somalia, Guinea, Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, Sierra Leone, Mali and Djibouti among other countries.

Possible reasons for female genital circumcision

Depending on the region and the community, there are various reasons why genital circumcision is performed. None of them, however, justify this inhuman practice.


FGM/C is often a tradition which has existed for generations. The circumcision is seen as a sign of commitment to the community. Women view being circumcised as normal. They only gain social recognition after they have been circumcised.

Aesthetics and hygiene

Many communities believe that female genitals are ugly and dirty. An uncircumcised girl is seen as being unclean. Circumcision makes women and girls pure. Sometimes it is also asserted, wrongly, that circumcised genitals are more attractive than uncircumcised ones.

Money and status

In many regions women must be circumcised in order to be accepted as a wife by the man and his family. In some places uncircumcised women are forbidden to marry. This is the reason why mothers allow their daughters to be circumcised. The family is often also dependent on the dowry their daughters bring.

Status as a woman

In some communities baby girls are circumcised soon after birth. In others it is not carried out until girls reach puberty or before they marry. In many places FGM/C is part of rite of initiation which marks the transition to adulthood – after circumcision girls become fully fledged women and gain social recognition.

Control and power

FGM/C is an expression of the oppression of women and their rights. The focus of genital circumcision is to control women’s sexuality and their bodies. Circumcision is believed to reduce women’s libido, ensuring that they do not have pre-marital sex and remain faithful to their husbands when they marry.

Religious grounds

Religious grounds are often also stated as the reason for circumcision, however this is not correct. FGM/C occurs in Islam, Christianity, in Judaism and among animists, but is not demanded by any holy writings. Many Islamic scholars take a clear stand against the circumcision of female genitals, emphasising that it is not compatible with Islamic teachings.

Impact on health

Genital circumcision does not result in any health benefits but can have serious physical and mental health consequences. Some girls even die as a result of the physical consequences of their circumcision.

Possible mental health consequences

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Low self-esteem
  • Panic attacks and anxiety disorders
  • Depression

Possible complications after circumcision:

  • Chronic illness and infections
  • Pain when urinating and during menstruation
  • Problems with scars
  • Vaginal problems such as discharge and itching
  • Sexual problems, pain during sexual intercourse
  • Complicated births involving severe pain for the mother and child

Possible complications during circumcision:

  • Severe pain
  • Excessive bleeding and swelling
  • Fever and shock
  • Infections
  • Problems with wound healing
  • Damage to surrounding tissue
  • Death

Legal information about FGM/C in Switzerland and worldwide

Female genital circumcision violates human rights, particularly the right to freedom from violence against women and girls. In Switzerland and the majority of other countries, FGM/C is banned and a punishable physical assault.

Legal situation in Switzerland

In Switzerland the ban on female genital mutilation is incorporated in Article 124 of the Criminal Code. Breaching of this ban can be punished with a prison sentence of up to ten years. Not only the person carrying out the circumcision can be liable to prosecution, but also the parents or relatives of the girl who allowed her to be circumcised. The law also applies if the circumcision is carried out abroad.

Legal situation in other countries

Today, countries in which genital circumcision of girls and women is practiced have also passed laws banning FGM/C and making it a punishable offence – for example, Benin, Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic, Chad, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ghana, Guinea, the Ivory Coast, Senegal, Sudan, Niger, Tanzania, Togo and Uganda

Affected or at risk? We will support you.

You are welcome to get in touch with our contact point to discuss any questions relating to female genital mutilation. We are here for you.

The Canton of Zurich’s
contact point for
female genital mutilation

Ambulatorium Kanonengasse outpatients clinic
Kanonengasse 18
8004 Zürich