Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)
The practice of partially or totally removing the external genitalia of girls and young women for non-medical reasons. Commonly leads to infection, infertility, and even death. Mostly carried out between infancy and age 15.
FGM is a violation of human rights. Also known as female genital cutting or female circumcision, it involves the removal of the external parts of the genitals for reasons with absolutely no basis in fact or evidence.
It causes untold physical and emotional trauma while enforcing the inherent gender inequality found in cultures that practice FGM.
FGM: a huge and sometimes hidden problem
In countries that openly practise FGM, the incidence can be very high – such as in Egypt (91%) and Somalia (97%, even though the country has recently declared FGM illegal)*. Female genital mutilation is a global problem that requires a global solution. Even in countries where FGM is banned, girls can be equally at risk, as the practice is often hidden. In addition laws are often not effectively enforced and prosecutions are rarely sought.
- Around the globe, 200 million girls and women have undergone FGM.
- In Africa 101 million girls aged 10 and over have been subjected to FGM.
- Every year a further 3 million girls are at risk of FGM in Africa alone.
- In the UK 65,000 girls under 13 could be at risk of FGM.
- A case of FGM is reported in England on average every 109 minutes.
Through our work with the Youth For Change group of young people, we’re calling for better teacher training in the UK on how to spot girls at risk. Join us in demanding better protection of young people from harmful practices like FGM by improving awareness in schools.
How we're fighting to end FGM in a generation
FGM is a global problem that demands a global solution. Plan projects are tackling harmful traditional practices in countries such as Egypt, Ethiopia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Mali, Sierra Leone and Sudan. But in our drive to help end FGM we need your help. By supporting our campaign you’re helping us:
• Educate women and communities. We need to make girls and women aware of the harmful effects of FGM. This not only empowers women to make choices, but it also educates the women who carry out the procedure. Because men and boys tend to have greater power and influence in cultures that practice cutting we also work to change attitudes among them.
• Increase legal protection. Part of our work involves working with governments and community leaders to put in place legal restrictions and make sure they are enforced.
• Support victims. Those who have suffered FGM need help and support, so we work with local health workers and the wider community to provide psychological and medical support to victims.
The devastating impacts of FGM
The damage that FGM inflicts can be life threatening as well as psychologically traumatic.
• Risk of infection or death. Deaths from FGM do happen, usually as a result of haemorrhaging during or immediately after the procedure or due to tetanus and other infections in the weeks following. The majority of procedures are carried out by untrained women, in non-sterile settings using implements such as scissors, razor blades and even broken glass. This means that girls will typically suffer from painful infections.
• Elevated chance of complications during childbirth. The damage wreaked on the female reproductive system means that women who have undergone FGM are twice as likely to die in childbirth and are also more likely to give birth to a stillborn baby.
• Lifetime susceptibility to infection. Victims of female genital mutilation are more likely to suffer with recurrent uterine, vaginal and pelvic infections throughout their life.
• Sexual dysfunction. Due to the trauma inflicted on their genitals, women who have been subjected to FGM typically experience pain during sex and suffer psycho-sexual effects.
• Psychological damage. Women who have undergone FGM can be affected by a wide range of psychological problems. One study revealed that 46% of those cut develop an anxiety disorder, while in another 78% reported feelings of intense fear and horror that plagued them long after the event.
If you think you are in immediate danger of being cut or of being taken abroad to undergo FGM you can call the police (dial 999). If you are concerned that a child's welfare is at risk because of FGM, call the NPSCC's confidential free helpline on 0800 028 3550.
The helpline offers advice, information and support. Though callers' details can remain anonymous, any information that could protect a child from abuse will be passed to the police or social services. Find out more in our FGM FAQs
Why does FGM happen?
The reasons for FGM are varied and complicated but the main drivers are established cultural customs and ingrained attitudes. Sometimes it is mistakenly held to be a religious requirement, but the practice predates all major religions and is not specified in any religious text.
For most cultures that carry out female genital mutilation, the primary reason for cutting is due to a belief that it is required to achieve a successful marriage match. In some communities girls who do not undergo the procedure are believed to be promiscuous and dirty and therefore not good marriage material. The strong cultural belief that FGM equates to purity, cleanliness and strong morals is a major factor in the continuation of the practice.
Is FGM legal?
FGM is recognised as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. The UN General Assembly has also adopted a resolution banning FGM, recognising it as a serious threat to the psychological, sexual and reproductive health of women and girls.
FGM is usually performed on women without permission and often against their will. As such it contravenes international and regional treaties such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights of Welfare of the Child.
However there are still some countries where FGM remains legal, such as Sierra Leone. There are even countries where it has been made illegal, like Somalia, and yet it continues to be performed as communities refuse to give up their cultural traditions.
Demand better protection of young people from harmful practices like FGM by improving awareness in schools in the UK. Sign the petition now.
* Source: Prevalence of FGM, World Health Organisation