Female Genital Mutilation - the definitions

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is defined by the World Health Organisation as a procedure or procedures that “intentionally alter or injure female genital organs for non-medical reasons”. Many professionals campaigning to end the practice feel it is more helpful to use the term female genital cutting which is descriptive rather than value laden. Those who practice it, and many of the subjects, call it circumcision or sometimes purification.

WHO has categorised FGM/C into 7 specific types plus a broad grouping - type IV - which covers other forms which do not involve removing tissue. This list clearly - and uncomfortably for many feminists who have cut their sons - reveals that female circumcision can involve similar damage to male circumcision, and indeed can be much less severe.

Type Ia, removal of the clitoral hood or prepuce only
Type Ib, removal of the clitoris with the prepuce.
Type IIa, removal of the labia minora only
Type IIb, partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora
Type IIc, partial or total removal of the clitoris, the labia minora and the labia majora.
Type IIIa, removal and apposition of the labia minora
Type IIIb, removal and apposition of the labia majora.
Type IV — All other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, for example: pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterization.

The 2008 Interagency Statement on FGM puts type IV "nicking" as one of the most prevalent forms of FGM.