Female circumcision, or mutilation of the genitals is mainly carried out in western and southern Asia, the Middle East and large areas of Africa. Partisans of the practice say it is done for cultural and religious reasons, but rivals say that not only is it potentially life-threatening - it is also an extreme form of oppression of women.
The different types of circumcision are:- The removal of the tip of the clitoris; Total removal of the clitoris and surrounding labia; The removal of the clitoris and labia and the sewing up of the vagina, leaving only a small opening for urine and menstrual blood - a process known as infibulation.
The aim of the process is to ensure the woman is faithful to her future husband. Some communities consider girls ineligible for marriage if they have not been circumcised. Health workers say that the operation is often carried out in unhygenic conditions.
Luckily due to health campaigns and education, female circumcision has been falling in some countries in the last decade. In Kenya, a 1996survey found that 76% of teenagers had been circumcised, compared to 100% of women over 45. Several governments have introduced legislation to ensure the process is only carried out in hospitals by trained doctors.