FGM, Child Marriage, and their Mental Effects

Several harmful cultural traditions hinder women’s quality of life, including early/forced marriage, marriage by abduction, female genital mutilation (FGM), bride price/dowry, virginity testing, cat-calling, and body shaming. Due to these and society’s pressures on men that lead them to develop an unhealthy way of dealing with their issues, women are the victims of multiple horrifying crimes such as murder, acid violence, and rape. On top of this, women are programmed to think a certain way and therefore feel they have to adhere to social standards or they won’t have value. Some women take extreme measures like cosmetic mutilation, breast flattening, or enlarging. In addition to the physical harm, there are also adverse mental effects. Let’s see how a woman’s mental state is affected by early/forced marriage and Female Genital Mutilation. 

Early/Forced Marriage

Early or forced marriage, also referred to as child marriage, is when a girl under 18 is married to an older man, usually in rural communities. Early marriage is caused by traditional, legal, economic, society, religion, and poverty. Sometimes, these marriages are formed by abduction & rape, called marriage by abduction. Girls who marry at a young age are highly unlikely to be able to support themselves. Early/forced marriages have traumatic effects on girls’ mental and physical health. These girls haven’t finished developing physically and emotionally to be prepared for marriage and motherhood. 

Young girls forced into marriage are usually terrified and confused, not only because they’re with a man twice their age but because they are isolated from their family. It is common for a girl to be raped and physically abused by her husband if she doesn’t obey him. On top of this, not only is she supposed to take care of her husband but also get pregnant & take care of kids while she’s still very young. This tremendously affects a woman’s mental state that can last her whole life. Forced marriage can psychologically affect a woman and can appear in ways like: 

  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Anger 
  • Stress
  • Insomnia
  • Issues with trust and forming relationships
  • Self-harm

It is imperative that a girl keeps her virginity until marriage; virginity is valued more than the girl herself. If a man doesn’t want to marry her, she is considered a disgrace and brings shame to her family. This can cause the girl to be mentally and emotionally overwhelmed with thoughts of disappointing her family, not being wanted by men & therefore, her survival is in danger and being an outcast & harassed by the community and her own family.

In addition, most young girls are taken out of school or drop out once they get married or reach a certain age to stay home and take care of the household. This dramatically hinders their personal and educational growth and limits their way of thinking. Most girls don’t realize how much potential they can have and the lengths they can go to. These girls are raised not to economically or financially contribute to their society but to be wives and mothers, to take care of the people in their surroundings even if it costs them their physical and mental wellbeing.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) 

FGM is when a girl’s, usually during her infant years up to 15 years of age, the clitoris is partially or entirely removed, including removing the labia minora. The procedure is generally performed with dull [knives, scissors, razor blades] sometimes, which is completely sanitary and leads to complications. FGM causes physical & emotional trauma that can lead to long-term issues such as life-threatening infections, depression, and self-esteem issues. 

For more information on FGM, Child Marriage, and other harmful traditions, please click on Harmful cultures against women – Letena Ethiopia 

Many beliefs validate FGM for certain people, including the girl who is being cut. Among the beliefs worldwide is that the clitoris is dangerous to the penis and can even put the baby at risk during birth. In Ethiopia, uncircumcised girls are unclean and “wild” or disobedient. Their worth is determined by society’s expectations and requirements of them. As a result, these young girls are denied their power and sexual freedom. While some accept and suffer in silence, others cannot hide their emotions and even take extensive measures such as running away and risking poverty. 

Among the mental effects include:

  • Anger
  • Feeling betrayed by family
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Anxiety
  • Nightmares 
  • Hopelessness 

Some eventually immerse themselves in the tradition and continue doing what has been done to them to other young girls. Some know it is wrong but still do out of fear of persecution or being mentally trapped in the notion that tradition trumps logic. Others take a stand and either try to stop these practices by educating & empowering or drop everything and move away to a more accepting society. 

We must change!

Even though many women finally get the chances they deserve, it’s sad to see how many others suffer so much pain and suffer in the name of tradition. It is no surprise that these traditions cause psychological issues that can change a woman’s life trajectory. All these are not only holding women back but society as a whole as well. Lack of education and awareness are some of the two primary reasons for these traditions’ existence. When women are educated, it directly contributes to the overall society’s growth, financially and morally. Everyone needs to be able to exercise all of their rights and work together to stop these harmful practices. It is only when we all prosper that our society and country thrive.