Published 8 March 2023 in Analysis
Celebrated on February 6, the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, is an opportunity to remind ourselves that 200 million girls and women in the world today have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM). Most often performed during childhood between the ages of 0 and 15, FGM 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.
While cases of FGM are reported all over the world, the practice is specifically recorded in 33 countries, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa, but also in the Middle East (notably in Yemen and Iraq) and in some Asian countries such as Indonesia. In nine countries, more than three out of four women and girls have undergone FGM : Somalia, Guinea, Djibouti, Mali, Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, Sierra Leone and Burkina Faso.
The partial or total removal of the clitoral glans (FGM type I) and female circumcision (type II) are the two most frequently practiced types of FGM.
Beyond the mutilation itself, which is rarely performed under anesthesia, FGM has serious repercussions on mental and sexual and reproductive health of girls and women. Depending on the type of practice, the hygiene conditions or the expertise of the person performing the operation, complications can arise that can lead to death or increase the risk of HIV transmission.
FGM is generally performed by traditional birth attendants or elders in their communities. Several surveys report the increasing involvement of health professionals in the practice, giving FGM an appearance of legitimacy and absence of health risks. According to recent estimates by UNFPA - the UN agency focused on sexual and reproductive health - of all women aged 15-49 who have undergone FGM, approximately one in four FGM has been performed by health workers. This is the case for more than one-third of Egyptian women and two-thirds of Sudanese women.
How many girls and women are affected ?
While 200 million girls and women in the world today are estimated to have undergone FGM, the practice of FGM has declined over the past three decades. In the 31 countries with nationally representative prevalence data, today about one in three girls have undergone the practice compared to one in two in the 1990s.
However, despite a general decline, not all countries have made progress. In 2023, 4.3 million girls are expected to undergo FGM.
Today, most countries have banned the practice. FGM is a violation of the rights of girls and women and is condemned by several international conventions and treaties.
Despite calls from the UN to ban the practice everywhere, some countries have yet to legislate on the subject, such as Mali or Indonesia. In countries that have declared themselves against FGM, this ban is not always respected : this is the case in Sudan, where nearly 87 % of women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49 were victims of some form of mutilation despite this being outlawed in 2020.
Across all countries for which data are available, the majority of girls and women declare that the practice should be stopped, but wide variations persist : more than half (53 %) of Sudanese women consider that FGM should be stopped even though nearly 87 % of them have undergone it, while 19 % of Somali women consider that the practice should be stopped.
In 2008, UNFPA and UNICEF established the Joint Programme on the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation, the largest global programme to accelerate the elimination of the practice and address its consequences. It works at the community, national, regional and global levels to raise awareness of the effects of FGM.
UNFPA estimates that $2.4 billion is needed to achieve zero FGM by 2030 in the 31 priority countries, while only $275 million is expected to be allocated to address this issue..
In 2022, France called on the international community to intensify efforts to end this practice and announced an increased financial support of 300,000 euros compared to 2021 as part of the National Action Plan against Female Genital Mutilation launched in 2019.
France also supports civil society actors and funds including :
|To find more data on gender inequality around the world, see our article for an overview of data resources around the world.
Check out Focus 2030 women’s rights special edition.