FGC can be dangerous and cause lifelong health and emotional problems for women who have been cut. If the procedure isn't done in a clean environment with sterilised medical tools, serious infections can result. Such infections can even kill, especially if the infections aren’t tended to.
Once the wounds have healed, other problems may arise. Women who have been cut can have a higher frequency of urinary tract infections, vaginal infections, menstruation problems, pain during sex and chronic pain. Incontinence, fistulas and cysts are also common. FGC can even result in infertility.
During childbirth, being cut can cause real risks for both baby and mother. With types 3 and 4 of FGC, the vagina is often too tight to allow the baby to pass through. A prolonged and obstructed labour can cause all kinds of complications for both mother and baby, with the most severe being death.
Women who have been cut are more likely to get small wounds and tears around their vaginas when they are having sex. Especially with types three and four circumcision, men have to use more force to enter the vagina which causes pain. Because of these wounds, there is a higher risk of getting infected with STDs such as HIV if no condom is used. Other infections are also common.
Another complication can be a fistula. A fistula is a hole between the vagina and bladder or anus. Fistulas lead to incontinence whereby you can no longer properly control your urine flow or bowel movements. It also comes with other medical and social consequences.
Fistulas are often the result of complications while giving birth to a baby. One cause can be that the baby doesn't come out easily because the opening of the vagina is too tight, which is often the case with women who have undergone types 3 or 4 of female genital cutting. So when women don't have medical help while giving birth and there are problems, a hole can form between the bladder or anus and the vagina. This hole is called a fistula.
Because the fistulas are holes between the bladder or anus and vagina, women with fistulas are incontinent, which means that they are constantly leaking urine and stool. The accompanying smell makes people think they are unclean. In turn, families may push away their daughters or husbands reject their wives, making the women social outcasts. Fistulas can also cause other medical problems.
Often with women with a type 3 or 4 cut, their opening is too small for having sex or a baby. So the opening has to be cut open to be big enough for a penis or a baby to pass through. Then, after she has given birth or had sex, the raw edges of the vagina are stitched back shut again. This is called 'reinfibulation'.
Doing this several times, for example after having several children, can cause thick scaring of the tissue around the vagina, which in turn can cause even more problems and pain. And of course, with such open wounds, the likelihood of infection increases during sex and labour.
Using excessive force during sex to be able to enter the vagina can also cause more tears, wounds and pain.