Four forms of Female Genital Mutilation

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines Female Genital Mutilation as follows: “FGM comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”

The WHO classifies female genital mutilation into 4 major types.

Type 1: Removal or Injury of the clitoris and/or the prepuce

Often referred to as clitoridectomy, this is the partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals), and in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).

Clitoridectomy is practiced regularly if a society regards girls as being “unclean” or because religious leaders claim it is obligatory, despite the fact that none of the Holy Scriptures recommends female genital mutilation, and allegedly harmless procedures also damage the nerves and health of the girl (for instance through infections), which is prohibited in all of the world religions.

If texts refer to the “mild” Sunna circumcision (sunna: Arabic for “recommended”), what is meant often is a small incision of the clitoris, where “only” a drop of blood flows. Sometimes, “sunna” can also refer to procedures where tissue is removed.


Type 2: additional to Type 1, the inner labia are shortened or removed

Often referred to as excision, this is the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora (the inner folds of the vulva), with or without excision of the labia majora (the outer folds of skin of the vulva).

This form of genital mutilation is often practised as a rite of initiation, which is meant to symbolise the transition from childhood to womanhood. For instance, it is part of the ritual that the girl neither screams nor cries during the mutilation. Thereby, she is supposed to present her mature character and show that she is worthy of fulfilling the role society has determined for her.


Type 3: total removal of complete outer genital organ and sowing shut of the vagina, leaving only a small hole open

Often referred to as infibulation, this is the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the labia minora, or labia majora, sometimes through stitching, with or without removal of the clitoris (clitoridectomy).

This is the most severe form of female genital mutilation, where the complete outer genital organ is removed and only a small hole is left open, through which urine and menstrual blood are supposed to flow, but no penetration is supposed to be possible. This form is practised mainly in communities where the value of a woman is determined solely by her virginity and marital fidelity. Penetration during the wedding night or giving birth can reactivate the trauma and pain of the mutilation or even surpass it.


Type 4: all other harmful practices causing physical and/or psychological damage

This includes all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.

Practices like smoking, dabbing or laying on hand may not cause physical harm, but still are done with the intention of controlling the girls’ sexuality.