Updated: Feb 10, 2019
According to WHO globally about 200 million women and girls have undergone Female Genital Mutilation/ Cutting (FGM/C) practice. About 3 million women and girls undergo this practice each year. According to Skoll Foundation, the rate at which the practice is prevalent today about 15 million more girls could be affected by 2030. FGM/C practice is largely prevalent in Africa (Sub Saharan), Middle East & North Africa and East Asia (Indonesia) according to UNICEF. FGM/C is a socio-cultural norm led by religious beliefs, superstition or patriarchal systems, the practice predates both Christianity and Islam (neither of which religions are said to support it). Both the UN and World Bank consider FGM/C practice as a form of gender-based violence (GBV) and a serious violation to human rights, negatively affecting women’s and girls’ physical and psychological well being.
Countries like Mali, Gambia, Mauritania, Djibouti & Somalia are extremely high on FGM/C prevalence amongst girls with an average of about 54%, that is half of the girls’ population undergoes the practice per UNICEF. The rate of practice exacerbates with age as girls step into adolescence. Countries like Somalia, Guinea, Djibouti are again high on prevalence of practice amongst adult women where about 93% of women on an average have undergone FGM/C (refer Exhibit 1). In all above-mentioned countries on an average 60% of people support the practice and maintain a positive attitude towards FGM/C (refer Exhibit 2).
FGM/C is said to be correlated with child marriage, education, violence and health. WHO and UNICEF report that prevalence is extremely high for girls 15 years & below in age. Countries where mothers reported this practice by age groups, on an average about 90% of the girls affected are of age 15 years & below of which about 80% have been affected by the age of 9 years. The age classified by stages of schooling indicates that majority of the girls impacted are of primary and middle school age (refer Exhibit 3). We ran a correlation and found that countries that are extremely high on FGM/C practice for girls by the age of 9 years also have a high primary school dropout rate, of about 40% on an average. Additionally, countries that are high on FGM/C practice for girls by the age of 15 years have low attendance rates for girls up to secondary schooling stage at an average of about 35% and high child marriage rates of about 20% on an average. That is 9 out of 10 girls undergo FGM/C by age 15, of which 3 drop out during primary school years, another 4 do not attend middle and secondary school and another 2 get married. Again Niger, Chad, Mali and Guinea turn out to be high on FGM/C practice for adolescent girls with low school attendance and high child marriage rates (refer Exhibit 4).
Countries like Guinea-Bissau and Kenya have banned the FGM/C practice legally. Wherein the countries work with NGOs, legal and GBV experts to create awareness, legal structure and coaching to ban the practice. However, Brookings Inst. 2018 reports that banning the practice alone is not a solution in Kenya where FGM/C is now practiced underground with the help of medical experts at homes or private clinics. In Kenya, 9.3 million girls have undergone the practice and in some areas, girls are taken to neighboring countries where the practice still exists reports Standard Digital Kenya 2018.
Awareness and support from NGOs and local community or religious leaders (including women) is also key to diminish the practice. NGOs like Tostan are leading grass-root efforts to help ban the practice by creating awareness in local communities. Primarily, working in countries like Djibouti, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, and Somalia. As a result, about 7,000 local communities in these countries have renounced the practice and 7,500 have taken a strong stance against child marriage with public declaration. Local women are primary decision makers to help ban the practice, generating awareness, educating them and empowering them is also important to reduce FGM/C practice. Tostan’s work has resulted in empowering more than 20,000 women in eight African countries in leadership positions in their communities and being elected in offices.