The world must make faster progress to end FGM

27Apr 2019
The Guardian
The world must make faster progress to end FGM

Female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as female genital cutting and female circumcision,  is the ritual cutting or removal of some or all of the external female genitalia.

  The practice is found in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, and within communities from countries in which FGM is common. UNICEF estimated in 2016 that 200 million women living today in 30 countries—27 African countries, Indonesia, Iraqi Kurdistan and Yemen—have undergone the procedures.  

Typically carried out by a traditional circumciser using a blade, FGM is conducted from days after birth to puberty and beyond. In half the countries for which national figures are available, most girls are cut before the age of five.  Procedures differ according to the country or ethnic group. They include removal of the clitoral hood and clitoral glans; removal of the inner labia; and removal of the inner and outer labia and closure of the vulva. In this last procedure, known as infibulation, a small hole is left for the passage of urine and menstrual fluid; the vagina is opened for intercourse and opened further for childbirth.  

The practice is rooted in gender inequality, attempts to control women's sexuality, and ideas about purity, modesty and beauty. It is usually initiated and carried out by women, who see it as a source of honour and fear that failing to have their daughters and granddaughters cut will expose the girls to social exclusion.  Adverse health effects depend on the type of procedure; they can include recurrent infections, difficulty urinating and passing menstrual flow, chronic pain, the development of cysts, an inability to get pregnant, complications during childbirth, and fatal bleeding.

There have been international efforts since the 1970s to persuade practitioners to abandon FGM, and it has been outlawed or restricted in most of the countries in which it occurs, although the laws are poorly enforced. Since 2010 the United Nations has called upon healthcare providers to stop performing all forms of the procedure, including reinfibulation after childbirth and symbolic  nicking  of the clitoral hood.  The opposition to the practice is not without its critics, particularly among anthropologists, who have raised difficult questions about cultural relativism and the universality of human rights.





In the same vein, EAST African countries have signed a declaration to eliminate Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and in particular the one that has cross-border dimensions.

Senior officials from Ethiopia, Somalia, Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya signed the declaration at the end of a three-day meeting held in Kenya's resort city of Mombasa.


Senior government officials from the five countries committed to supporting cross-border cooperation by facilitating information exchange on trends and good practices, establishing Standard Operating Procedures for girls and women at risk, law enforcement, and community dialogue.




Statistics indicate that more than 200 million girls globally have undergone FGM, including those in 30 countries in Africa.


Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Tanzania and Uganda saw almost one quarter of the global burden of FGM, which means 48.5 million girls and young women, according to data from UNICEF, the UN children education fund.


According to findings from a report commissioned by UNICEF in collaboration with Kenya's Anti-FGM Board, 70 per cent of respondents of the survey from Uganda, and 60 percent from Ethiopia, travelled to Kenya to undergo FGM.