Rwandan female genital modification: elongation of the Labia minora and the use of local botanical species.

Cult Health Sex. 2008 Feb;10(2):191-204.LME

Rwandan female genital modification: elongation of the Labia minora and the use of local botanical species.

Koster M, Price LL

Department of Social Sciences, Wageningen University, Netherlands.


The elongation of the labia minora is classified as a Type IV female genital mutilation by the World Health Organization. However, the term mutilation carries with it powerful negative connotations. In Rwanda, the elongation of the labia minora and the use of botanicals to do so is meant to increase male and female pleasure. Women regard these practices as a positive force in their lives. This paper aims to assess whether Rwandan vaginal practices should indeed be considered a form of female genital mutilation and whether the botanicals used by women are detrimental to their health. Research was carried out in the northeast of Rwanda over the course of 13 months. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with thirteen informants. Two botanicals applied during stretching sessions were identified as Solanum aculeastrum Dunal and Bidens pilosa L. Both have wide medicinal use and contain demonstrated beneficial bioactive compounds. We suggest that it is therefore more appropriate to describe Rwandan vaginal practices as female genital modification rather than mutilation.

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