Genital alteration can refer to permanent or temporary changes women may make to their genitals. This can include surgeries such a labial reduction, which changes the appearance of a women’s vulva. Genital alteration is largely done for cosmetic purposes and are voluntary and performed with consent. 

Female genital mutilation is the cutting or removal of part, or all, of a females genitals. Often this is done against the person’s will or practiced on children too young to understand the implications of the procedure. This is illegal and legislated against in many countries, including New Zealand. 

All genital alterations and mutilations are based on socially constructed understandings of the way women’s genitalia should be if girls and women are to be appropriately ‘female’ and sexually desirable.

Female genital mutilation

FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) is illegal because it is harmful to the health of women and girls

New Zealand is a signatory to the following International Instruments and conventions that encourage and oblige action against FGM including:
➜ The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 25)
➜ The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (Articles 2f, 5a, 12)
➜ The Convention on the Rights of the Child (Articles 2, 19.2, 24.1, 37a, 24.3).

In New Zealand, FGM is illegal under an amendment to The Crimes Act (section 204A) 1961 which states that it is illegal to perform “any medical or surgical procedure or mutilation of the vagina or clitoris of any person” for reasons of “culture, religion, custom or practice.” It is unlawful to circumcise a female, remove or cut out any part of the female genital area, stitch up the female genital area, cut the clitoris or part of the clitoris or damage the female genital area in other ways. It is against the law to perform FGM even if the woman or girl wants it to be done, or to send a woman or girl out of New Zealand for FGM to be performed. If someone performs, helps, or gets someone else to perform FGM, they are breaking the law and may be imprisoned for up to seven years.

Complications of FGM include haemorrhage, shock, severe pain, dislocated hip joints and infection. Long term complications include infertility, sexual difficulties, childbirth complications, psychological effects, clitoral neurinoma, recurrent urinary tract infections or abscesses.

Useful Links

If you are considering genital alteration or cosmetic surgery on your labia…

The great wall of vagina » an art project that displays hundreds of plasters casts of real women’s vulvas, showing how many different types of vulvas there are, and how these are all completely normal. 

Quick question: Is my labia normal? » helpful information if you are worried about the way your labia looks

Female genital mutilation

Female Genital Mutilation New Zealand »  information on FGM and FGM in New Zealand.

WHO female genital mutilation » World Health Organisation’s information

Content warning: female genital mutilation. ↓