A 1985 Sierra Leone study found that 97 percent of 269 women interviewed experienced intense pain during and after FGM, and more than 13 percent went into shock. Hemorrhages, wound infections (including tetanus) and damage to adjoining organs are common after the initial procedures in girls. Long-term complications include painful and abnormal periods, scarring, infertility, psychological trauma and an increased risk of maternal and child mortality due to labor complications.
Despite the severe consequences, in parts of the world where the ritual is practiced, many believe the procedure ensures cleanliness and better marriage prospects, prevents promiscuity and excessive clitoral growth, enhances male sexuality and encourages childbirth by widening the birth canal.
"Let's be clear, this is a deeply entrenched practice in many places," Clinton said at the conference Thursday. "So we have to be both unrelenting in our efforts to end it and understanding about what works and what doesn't work... We enter into this with a lot of humility."
Nevertheless, Clinton went on to say that excusing the practice as a cultural tradition is unacceptable.
"We cannot excuse it as a private matter because it has very broad public implications," she said. "This is such an important issue that deserves attention from the United States Congress and from leaders across the globe."
In moving forward, Clinton said the United Nations and other partners in foreign relations and global public health initiatives will be looking at laws and resolutions, new efforts and strategies to raise awareness of the damaging practice. The Secretary of State also announced a partnership with the University of Nairobi to fund a pan-African Center of Excellence in Kenya to advance African research to address female genital cutting.
"This is not a women's problem, this is not a women's issue," said Clinton. "This affects the human family, and therefore, we all have a stake in it... We want to create conditions for every child, girl and boy, to have a chance to live up to his or her God-given potential."
ABC News' Gitika Ahuja contributed to this report