06 February 2018

International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation

Female genital mutilation (FGM)—which refers to all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons—affects more than 200 million girls and women, between infancy and age 15, in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, where it is concentrated. The practice can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths.

There are many varying reasons behind FGM, most having to do with socio-cultural norms. FGM is often seen as an essential part of raising a girl; it is considered a way to prepare her for adulthood and marriage. In these societies, women are more likely to be married if FGM has been carried out on them. There is a belief that a woman will be less likely to have premarital sex or to be unfaithful in marriage if her genitalia are cut, altered or sewn shut, due to resulting shame or embarrassment. Unfortunately, this social normality and fear is what leads the continuation of the practice, which is a violation of human rights.

At least 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in the 30 countries with representative data on prevalence. In most of these countries, the majority of girls were cut before age 5. [Click here to learn more facts and figures from UN Women about ending violence against women.]

Although FGM is mainly practiced in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, it is also carried out in some immigrant communities in Europe, North America and Australia: 200,000 victims of FGM live in Europe.  The prevalence in Sweden is among the highest in Europe, as the country is home to many migrants from countries where FGM is customary. This trend is also seen in other European countries. In order to avoid European laws, many girls are known to be taken to their respective home countries to undergo the “procedure.”

There is a movement against FGM on the rise across the world—people are speaking out and protesting against the practice. The indignity and silence that surrounds FGM is being challenged.  As awareness spreads and support grows, we can see a change of attitudes.

In Lenkisem, Kenya, there is already momentum to change these attitudes. A young woman, Nice Nailantei Leng’ete, has been leading advocacy efforts in Kenya to replace FGM with an Alternative Rites of Passage ceremony. This involves a three-day training and ceremony filled with candlelight, dancing, and political representation. In a recent visit, Women Deliver and Amref Health Africa had the opportunity to witness this ceremony—check out this photo essay by the New York Times to learn more!

Join the movement this February 6th and speak out against FGM!

Learn more.