forma helps women who have been affected by FGC

Welcome to forma

The forma website is designed as an interactive space for FGC-affected women to share their stories through art, writing, film, photography, music or any other form of artistic expression. We have also created an online community for women wishing to dialogue—either anonymously or openly—about the difficulties affecting them. We hope that by uniting affected women we will find fresh approaches to these issues. As mental health professionals, we hope to facilitate and foster conversational interventions that would validate a sense of wholeness and social acceptance for women who have been cut.

forma is also dedicated to providing comprehensive, culturally sensitive clinical and educational services tailored to individual women and families affected by FGC in the Chicago area. Please visit our services page for more information.

There are many organizations which promote abandonment of FGC, but the forma website exists for the sole purpose of supporting women who have already been cut.

FGC is a highly personal and sensitive issue, and there may be reluctance among many of you to disclose information due to feelings of shame or fears of being judged as different. Although some report feelings of happiness and pride in having undergone FGC, most of our research suggests that this is an extremely traumatic event with harmful consequences. Some of you may suffer from multi-phase trauma, low self-esteem and negative self-image. Having heard a number of affected women share that they feel ‘ruined,’ our vision is to provide a resource for healing so that—although you may feel different—you need not feel ‘less than’.

The practice of female genital cutting has been followed by many different cultures and societies across the ages and continents. It is an ancient tradition, predating Christianity and Islam, involving the removal of parts or all of the external female genitalia. Although this custom is practiced in many African countries it has also been reported in Indonesia, Malaysia, parts of the Persian Gulf, and among ethnic minorities in Yemen, Oman, Iran, Iraq, Kurdistan, and Central and South America. It is also reported amongst Bedouin women in Israel and practiced by Ethiopian Jews, Coptic Christians and among Bohra Muslim populations in parts of India and Pakistan.

It is estimated that approximately 100-140 million African women have undergone FGC worldwide, while in Africa a further 3 million girls are at risk of the practice each year. As a result of migration, cases of this practice have been documented in the Middle East and are also found in Europe, Australia, Canada and the United States of America. The age at which the practice is carried out varies, from shortly after birth to the labor of the first child—depending on the community or individual family—but the most common age is between four and ten.

Types of cutting

  • Excision of the prepuce, or hood of the clitoris, with or without excision of part or the entire clitoris. This cut is also referred to as Sunna.
  • Excision of the clitoris with partial or total excision of the labia minora, leaving the labia majora intact.
  • The most extreme form, also referred to as infibulation and sometimes called pharaonic circumcision, involves the excision of the clitoris, labia minora, and labia majora, followed by the sewing together of the raw edges of the vulva so that only a small hole remains through which urine and menstrual fluid may pass.
  • Includes pricking, piercing or incising, stretching, burning of the clitoris, scraping of tissue surrounding the vaginal orifice, cutting of the vagina, introduction of corrosive substances or herbs into the vagina to cause bleeding or to tighten the opening.

Origins

While there is no conclusive evidence to indicate where and when the custom of FGC began and how it spread, historians have traced it back to as early as the fifth century BCE. The oldest known source that records the custom is the work of Herodotus (484-424 BCE) who states that excision was practiced by the Phoenicians, Hittites, and Ethiopians, as well as by Egyptians. In medical literature, ideas about clitoridectomy appeared as early as 138 CE. Soramus, a Greek physician in Alexandria and Rome, described in detail the instruments he used to cut away the excess when presented with a large clitoris. Similarly, the physician Aetuis (502-575 CE) described his practice of clitoral amputations using forceps.

Infibulation derives its name from the Latin word ‘fibula’, which was the name given to the pin to clasp the Roman toga. The fibula was used to prevent sexual intercourse amongst slaves, thus preventing males from tiring themselves out, and also to protect girls and women against child bearing, which would hinder their work. Fibulas were fastened through the labia majora of female slaves, and through the prepuce of males. Infibulation is also believed to have been carried out as a means of protection against rape for young girls taking animals out to pasture.

It is important to note, especially since many people are not aware of this, that as recent as the 1950s, clitoridectomy was practiced in Western Europe and the United States to treat 'ailments' in women as diverse as hysteria, epilepsy, mental disorders, masturbation, nymphomania, melancholia and lesbianism.

Perceptions

FGC is believed to ensure fidelity in marriage, prevent societal disharmony caused by promiscuity and unwanted pregnancy and maintain the social bonds of women.

This tradition is prevalent in some societies in which marriage is essential to women's social and economic security and failure to ensure a daughter's marriageable status can realistically be seen as failure to ensure her survival. Parents requesting a ritual genital procedure for their daughters believe it will promote their daughter’s integration into their culture and preserve group identity. It is also believed that cutting will protect their daughter’s virginity, prevent immorality, and preserve family honor, thereby guaranteeing the young woman’s desirability as a marriage partner. Moreover with respect to infibulation, this practice is expected to enhance the husband’s sexual pleasure by creating a tight vaginal opening.

Female genital cutting is practiced in a number of communities under the mistaken belief that it is demanded by certain religions. Although there are no religious texts prescribing the practice, some practitioners often believe the tradition has religious support. Therefore, religious leaders adopt varying positions with regard to FCC; some promote it, some consider it irrelevant to religion, while others advocate for its abandonment.