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Women with vaginal piercings are to be categorised as having undergone female genital mutilation under strict new NHS rules introduced by the Department of Health.
FGM is a non-medical procedure that intentionally alters the appearance of, or causes injury female genitalia. This is done by removing, cutting or stitching various parts of the vagina. However, the reasons for undergoing such a procedure vary, and it has been confirmed by the World Health Organisation (WHO), that there are no proven health benefits. It is commonly associated with cultural traditions and often performed by women themselves. The procedure carries numerous physical and psychological side effects for the victims including continuous pain, infection, injury and trauma to children during childbirth, haemorrhages, as well as severe bleeding resulting in fatality.
Approximately over 130 million women and girls have suffered FGM across the world, and a shocking 170,000 victims are estimated to be living in the UK. The NHS reported a staggering 2,600 women being treated for the side effects of FGM since last year with nearly 500 women seen by doctors in January alone. These statistics clearly warrant concern, which has resulted in new regulations to be carried out under the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 (to prevent and protect young women and girls being subjected to such a procedure). Regulations include mandatory teacher training in the signs and symptoms of a child having undergone, or at risk of undergoing, female genital mutilation and to notify authorities immediately, as well as being able to identify those most at risk to provide information and support to them and their families. The government also supports Amnesty International’s campaign to ban FGM practices in all countries.
Despite the benefits of the recent governmental procedures in combatting FGM, there has also been a radical proposition of classifying vaginal piercings as a form of female genital mutilation. The Department of Health justified this as “taking every precaution necessary to record genital piercings that have been done within an abusive context”, ensuring the reporting is in line with WHO. It has been also reported that the classification will apply to consenting adult women who have had the procedure for cosmetic or sexual reasons.
A Department of Health spokeswoman has further stated:
“Whilst there are challenges in this area and adult women may have genital piercings, in some communities girls are forced to have them… The World Health Organisation has therefore rightly defined this as a form of FGM”.
According to this statement, recording is purely for data purposes in order to identify the issues vaginal piercings present in modern society and to assess whether vaginal piercings should constitute as a form of FGM as a preventative measure.
From a feminist perspective, this appears to be another way in which females are victims of their own body, and to celebrate individual femininity and the right to have control over one’s body is met with criticism. To many, it is a way of heightening sexual sensations, and it seems interesting that this purpose has been disregarded altogether as something abhorrent – to the extent of classifying it as mutilation. This reveals to me, that there remains a general discomfort that women are just as sexual as men, because it is necessary to note that genital piercings will still be available to consenting adult males.
Perhaps further and stricter regulation policies will be more fitting than such a drastic classification, which to some extent undermines the entire nature of female genital mutilation. FGM is a practice familiar in cultural and religious traditions based upon the inferiority of women. The procedure itself represents oppression and control over female sexuality attempting to either reduce sexual urges, or to ensure sex is only for the purposes of procreation; it removes all the pleasure for the woman as intended.
Contrast this with a woman consenting to a genital piercing who is exercising control over her body, sexuality and femininity – you are presented with two contradicting concepts.