*Trigger warning: discussion of forced female genital mutilation and circumcisions*
Chanel, who grew up in Kenya but now lives in Dubai, revealed in this week’s episode that she went through a forced female circumcision, or female genital mutilation (FGM), when she was just five years old. The RHODubai star undergoes hypnotherapy during the episode, and talks about the experience.
“The crying, the sadness, the beatings. That’s what I remember. A lot of pain,” she said. “We were tied in the legs. Couldn’t pee. Couldn’t move. When we needed to pee, they would carry us and put us on the grass. I just didn’t understand what the hell was going on whatsoever and my mom didn’t know that that was happening to us.”
Chanel said after the therapy session that she felt ready to move forward. “I’ve chosen, for the first time in my life, to forgive them and accept what happened to me,” she said. “I still have a lot of life and I still have a lot of love to give to myself.”
The episode raises a lot of questions about the disturbing practice of female genital mutilation. Here’s what you need to know.
What is female genital mutilation or female circumcision?
Female genital mutilation (which is sometimes called “circumcision” but is different from male circumcision) is an umbrella term for 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, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The practice is recognized as a human rights violation and “reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against girls and women,” the WHO says, noting that FGM is “nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children.”
The procedure usually occurs between ages five and fourteen, but can sometimes also be performed on adult women before marriage or a first pregnancy, per the U.S. Office on Women’s Health.
Why do women get “circumcised”?
There are various reasons why this practice occurs.
Women are often “circumcised” as part of a cultural norm, the WHO says. The practice can be rooted in societal pressure and could sometimes be performed to try to ensure that a woman is a virgin when she’s married.
It’s also considered a rite of passage in some countries, or a ritual that signifies that a girl is now a woman, according to the Office of Women’s Health.
In some cultures, women are considered to be more marriageable when they’ve undergone FGM. The practice may also sometimes have religious ties.
What happens during the procedure?
The procedure is performed differently depending on the country and region where it takes place. FGM is mostly done in parts of northern and central Africa, the southern Sahara, and in some parts of Asia and the Middle East, per the Office on Women’s Health.
Here are the different types of FGM, per the WHO:
- Type 1: This is the partial or total removal of the external part of the clitoris and/or the clitoral hood.
- Type 2: This is the partial or total removal of the clitoral glans and the labia minora (the inner folds of the vulva), with or without removal of the labia majora (the outer folds of skin of the vulva).
- Type 3: This is the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal that’s formed by cutting and repositioning the labia minora, or labia majora, sometimes through stitching, with or without removal of the clitoral hood and glans.
- Type 4: This includes all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, like pricking, piercing, incising, scraping, and cauterizing the genital area.
How many women have gone through FGM?
At least 200 million women and girls have undergone FGM in 31 different countries, according to UNICEF.
What are the short and long-term effects?
There are immediate and long-term effects that can come from undergoing FGM.
Immediate side effects, per the WHO, include:
- severe pain
- excessive bleeding
- genital tissue swelling
- urinary problems
- wound healing problems
- injury to surrounding genital tissue
Long-term complications may include:
- urinary problems
- vaginal problems
- menstrual problems
- scar tissue and keloid
- sexual problems
- increased risk of childbirth complications
- need for later surgeries (like needing to have a stitched vagina opened after marriage so a woman can have sex)
- psychological effects
What has Chanel said about it?
Chanel spoke out about her experience after the episode aired. “I’m a survivor,” she told E! News. “I felt that I was utterly betrayed by my culture and my family. This is just a barbaric practice and it shouldn’t be happening to young girls. It happened to me 35 years ago and I’ve never gotten over it.”
Chanel also said that “everybody’s a virgin in my culture because of this. Because how are you going to have sex when you’re sewn as a girl until you get married? It’s a way to keep men satisfied.”
Chanel said she hopes that by speaking out about her experience, she can help end FGM. “As long as I use my platform to bring awareness to stop this—if I can save 20 girls, 100 girls, 500 girls, I feel like that’s the purpose I have,” she said. “It’s child abuse. And a lot of girls just die for no reason.”
Korin Miller is a freelance writer specializing in general wellness, sexual health and relationships, and lifestyle trends, with work appearing in Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Self, Glamour, and more. She has a master’s degree from American University, lives by the beach, and hopes to own a teacup pig and taco truck one day.