It's Time to End Female Genital Mutilation

April 14, 2017

It's happening in the U.S. and in countries around the world. At least 200 million women and girls — many of them under 15 — have already endured this violent practice. UNICEF is fighting to eliminate FGM once and for all.

This year alone, millions of girls will be forced to undergo the violent practice of female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C). Despite being internationally condemned, FGM is still a frightening reality for at least 200 million women and girls alive today in 30 countries. In most of these countries, the majority of girls are cut before their fifth birthday.  

FGM occurs in every region of the world ...

Half of the affected women and girls live in three countries: Egypt, Ethiopia and Indonesia. UNICEF estimates that 60 million women and girls have been cut in Indonesia alone, more than half of them by a trained medical professional. The nations with the highest prevalence are Somalia (98 percent), Guinea (97 percent) and Djibouti (93 percent).

Even women and girls in the United States are at risk ...

FGM occurs in India, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and even in some places in South America. The practice persists in diaspora immigrant communities throughout Europe and even in the United States as families bring the custom with them from their countries of origin. This week, a doctor in Michigan has been charged with performing multiple procedures on girls between six and eight years old. In the United Kingdom, one case of FGM is reported every hour.

The practice inflicts excruciating pain and extreme emotional trauma ...

FGM differs across regions and cultures, often involving life-threatening health risks. It inflicts excruciating pain and causes extreme emotional trauma that can last a lifetime. It increases the risk of deadly complications during pregnancy, labor and childbirth, endangering both mother and child. It reflects the low status of girls and women and reinforces gender inequality. There are no health benefits, according to the World Health Organization. In every case, FGM is not just an "old custom"; it is a severe violation of human rights.

At least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries.© UNICEF SEB-1389/Sebastian Rich

Odmangal C. has performed more than 1,000 FGM procedures on children in Chad. She has never cleaned the blade. She believes doing so would destroy its magic.

UNICEF is co-leading a global fight to stop FGM ...

Working in partnership with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) on the largest global effort to eliminate the violent practice, UNICEF fights FGM at every level. Social workers stand up for vulnerable young girls on a one-on-one level. Trained leaders organize community outreach programs. Policy advocates encourage governments to change health care practices, human rights policies and legislation. UNICEF also provides medical and psychosocial care for girls who have been harmed and traumatized by mutilation.

Women AND men oppose FGM, even in countries where it is still common ...

Age-old traditions die hard, but public opinion is gradually shifting against the ritual mutilation of young girls' bodies. According to UNICEF data, 67 percent of girls and women and 63 percent of boys and men say they want the practice to end. 

“Although female genital mutilation is associated with gender discrimination, our findings show that the majority of boys and men are actually against it,” said Francesca Moneti, UNICEF Senior Child Protection Specialist. “Unfortunately, individuals’ desire to end FGM is often hidden, and many women and men still believe the practice is needed in order for them to be accepted in their communities.”

The time for ZERO TOLERANCE is now ...

The international community’s commitment to stopping FGM is stronger than ever before.  In 2015, 193 countries called for an end to FGM by 2030, as part of the Sustainable Development Goals. Since 2008, five countries have passed legislation criminalizing the practice: Guinea Bissau, Kenya, Uganda and the Gambia. 

More than 15,000 communities in 20 countries have publicly declared that they are abandoning the mutilation of female genitalia. The majority of people in countries where FGM data exist — including boys and men — think the practice should end.

But if current trends continue, population growth will outpace progress over the next 15 years, and the number of women subjected to FGM will rise dramatically. For those millions of girls who continue to be terrified and hurt, the time for zero tolerance is now.

Learn more: Together we can end FGM/C

Watch: Stopping FGM in Chad

 

Watch: Ending FGM in Cote d'Ivoire

 

Watch: Challenging a Cruel Custom in Kenya

Photos in this story by Sebastian Rich for UNICEF.