|© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-1485/Kate Holt|
|A woman holds a poster promoting the Saleema Campaign at a community meeting in El Khatmia Village, Gadaref State. El Khatmia is one of five villages in Gadaref that have agreed to collectively abandon FGM/C.|
Female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) refers to all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
UNICEF estimates that more than 70 million girls and women 15-49 years old have undergone FGM/C in 28 African countries, plus Yemen, and three million girls are at risk of FGM/C each year on the African continent alone (UNICEF 2011 State of the World’s Children). Cases of the practice have been documented in the Middle East and are also found in Europe, Australia, Canada and the United States of America among immigrant populations primarily from Africa. FGM/C can be performed as early as one year of age.
FGM/C may cause severe pain and can result in prolonged bleeding, infection, infertility and even death. A 2006 World Health Organisation’s study found that FGM/C is also harmful to newborns due to adverse obstetric outcomes, leading to an extra 1 to 2 perinatal deaths per 100 deliveries.
FGM/C is a fundamental violation of the rights of girls and is a deeply entrenched social norm. It is a manifestation of gender discrimination. The practice is perpetrated by families without a primary intention of violence, but is de facto violent in nature. Communities practice FGM/C in the belief that it will ensure a girl's proper marriage, chastity, beauty or family honour. Some also associate it with religious beliefs although no religious scriptures require it. The practice is such a powerful social norm that families have their daughters cut even when they are aware of the harm it can cause. If families were to stop practicing on their own they would risk the marriage prospects of their daughter as well as the family's status.
While the practice has persisted for over a thousand years, evidence shows that FGM/C can end in one generation. Community conversations and education programmes about human rights and fundamental values with adults, adolescents and religious leaders allow community members to discuss alternative ways of doing the best for their daughters without having them cut. In several countries, this participatory process has led communities to organize public commitment to abandon FGM/C. UNICEF and partners support these initiatives and also assist governments in strengthening legislations outlawing the practice and policies enabling communities to make a coordinated and collective choice to abandon FGM/C.
Visit the resources page for more information.
UNICEF and the European Union,“Changing harmful practices” (three videos and a photo essay), 2011