‘Every time they are doing a cutting, the singing gets louder so you can’t hear the screaming’

Across 29 countries within Africa, and more than 125 million women and girls cut, Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) continues to be practiced from the Atlantic Coast to the Horn of Africa and beyond with wide variations in the percentage of girls and women cut within and across each country.

More than half of these women now live in just three countries: Egypt, Ethiopia and Nigeria.

Published in July this year, a UNICEF report has revealedUNICEF_FGM_report_cover the disturbing facts and figures on the continuation of FGM/C, despite the apparent opposition to it (in 19 out of the 29 countries listed in the report, the majority of women and girls believe it should end).

UNICEF believe that ‘obtaining timely, comparable and reliable information on FGM/C is a key aspect of efforts aimed at promoting its elimination’. They also believe that the ‘wealth of information available in this report can be used by governments, international agencies, civil society and other development partners to fine-tune strategies seeking to encourage the abandonment of the practice’.

Below are some facts and key findings from the report.

Who: In half of the countries, the majority of girls were cut before the age of 5. In the remaining countries, cutting occurs between the ages of 5 and 14. However in some countries, the cutting happens as young as one month old.

How: Across the majority of countries, most daughters have had their genitalia cut in some way, with some flesh removed.

By Whom: In nearly all countries where FGM/C is concentrated, traditional practitioners perform most of the procedures, with the exception of Egypt where 77% of cutting is carried out by medical professionals.

Why: Social acceptance is the most frequently cited reason for supporting the continuation of the practice.

Key Facts from the report

Somalia: 63% of girls who underwent FGM/C had their genitalia sewn shut

Guinea: 19% of girls and women think FGM/C should stop, compared with 42% of men

Eritrea: 60% of girls and women regard FGM/C as a religious requirement

Mali: 55% of girls who have been cut are daughters of women who oppose the practice

Yemen: In 97% of cases, girls were cut in their homes and 75% of these girls were cut using a blade or razor

Gambia: 82% of women and girls who have been cut believe the practice should continue, compared to 5% of women who have not been cut

Mauritania: On average, girls were cut when they were just one month old

Chad: 27% of boys and men think that FGM/C is required by religion

Cameroon: 85% of boys and men think FGM/C should not be continued.

Key Findings from the report

  • 30 million girls are at risk of genital cutting in the next 10 years
  • FGM/C is found to a lesser extent in the rest of the world, however, the exact numbers are unknown
  • FGM/C is closely associated with certain ethnic groups within countries, suggesting that social norms and expectations within communities of like-minded individuals play a strong role in the perpetuation of the practice
  • On average, 50% regard FGM/C as a religious requirement (where data was available)
  • In Egypt where the medicalization of FGM/C is most acute, the percentage of girls being cut by medical professionals increased from 55% in 1995 to 77% in 2008
  • A trend towards less severe cutting is apparent in some countries. For example, in Djibouti 83% of women aged 45-49 reported being sewn closed (also known as infibulation, one of the most severe forms of FGM) versus 42% of girls aged 15-19
  • Although decreases in prevalence have been constant across a number of countries, there have been no significant changes in FGM/C prevalence in Chad, Gambia, Guinnea-Bissau, Mali, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen
  • Genital cutting is often assumed to be a manifestation of patriarchal control over women – suggesting that men are supporters. However, similar levels of support for the ending of FGM/C is found in men and women. In Guinnea-Bissau, Sierra Leone and Chad, substantially more men than women want FGM/C to end.
  • Responses of men and boys largely mirror those of women and girls in terms of any possible benefits of FGM. Social Acceptance and preservation of virginity were the most commonly cited reasons from both sides.
  • Based on attitudes tracked over time, it appears that overall support for the practice is declining. However, there are exceptions: the proportion of girls and women who want FGM/C to continue remains consistent in Guinnea, Guinnea-Bissau, Senegal and Tanzania

Case study: Blood on the leaves – Ending FGM/C in Côte d’Ivoire by UNICEF

UNICEF video | length 5:05mins | 2013 | In Côte d’Ivoire, where 36 per cent of women have been victims of genital mutilation, the practice is increasingly becoming a thing of the past as victims and a former excisionist speak out to raise awareness of its cruelty and its dangers.

Note: the title of this blog is taken from a quote from FGM/C survivor Sarian, now in her 30s, who was mutilated when she was 11.


Explore more…

Ciara has written on FGM/C on this blog previously on the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C), 6th February 2012.

  • ‘My way of saying No’ | Photographic portraits exhibition of people across Europe and Africa who, each in their own way, stand up against FGM | 2013 | https://www.mafacondedirenon.be/en/home