Three million girls and women are at risk for genital mutilation annually

February 6, 2010

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Around three million girls and women are at risk for genital mutilation or cutting annually, leaders at two United Nations institutions warned as the world marked International Day against Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C).

“Progress has been made in recent years in reducing the incidence of female genital mutilation or cutting, largely because communities and families are taking action and calling for change,” United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA) Executive Director Thoraya Obaid and UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman said.

“However an estimated 120 to 140 million women have been subject to this harmful and dangerous practice and three million girls continue to be at risk each year.”

Female genital mutilation or cutting, a centuries-old custom, is practiced on women mainly from Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia, amid concerns that it exists in among certain immigrant communities in North America, Europe and Australia, but in an underground way. It involves partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons.

According to experts, the practice persists because it is sustained by social perceptions, including that girls and their families will face shame, social exclusion and diminished marriage prospects if they forego cutting.

“These perceptions can, and must, change. FGM/C poses immediate and long-term consequences for the health of women and girls, and violates their human rights,” the UNFPA and the UNICEF said.

Success in reducing the incidence in several countries where it was once highly prevalent has occurred as a result of culturally sensitive engagement with local communities, encouraging change from within. The practice sharply declined in areas where communities chose to make public declarations against it. In Senegal, the practice decreased by 65 per cent, the UNFPA and the UNICEF said.

Support is being provided by UNFPA, UNICEF and other partners for community-led abandonment programmes that engage parliamentarians, media, traditional communicators, women lawyers, medical associations, religious leaders and scholars to speak out against the practice.

The International Day against Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting provides an opportunity for people everywhere to redouble their efforts and end this harmful practice within a generation, the UNFPA and the UNICEF said.


 Cultural, religious and social causes

(Compiled by the World Health Organisation – WHO) 


The causes of female genital mutilation include a mix of cultural, religious and social factors within families and communities.


  • Where FGM is a social convention, the social pressure to conform to what others do and have been doing is a strong motivation to perpetuate the practice.
  • FGM is often considered a necessary part of raising a girl properly, and a way to prepare her for adulthood and marriage.
  • FGM is often motivated by beliefs about what is considered proper sexual behaviour, linking procedures to premarital virginity and marital fidelity. FGM is in many communities believed to reduce a woman’s libido, and thereby is further believed to help her resist “illicit” sexual acts.
  • FGM is associated with cultural ideals of femininity and modesty, which include the notion that girls are “clean” and “beautiful” after removal of body parts that are considered “male” or “unclean”.
  • Though no religious scripts prescribe the practice, practitioners often believe the practice has religious support.
  • Local structures of power and authority, such as community leaders, religious leaders, circumcisers, and even some medical personnel can contribute to upholding the practice.
  • In most societies, FGM is considered a cultural tradition, which is often used as an argument for its continuation.



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About the author

Born August 3, 1960 in Monastir, Tunisia
Media career:
  • ABC News (Tunisia)
  • Bahrain Tribune
  • Gulf News
  • Bahrain Television News
Teaching career:
  • Monastir (Tunisia)
  • University of Bahrain
  • MA  Mass Communications, University of Leicester
  • BA  in English & US literature and studies, University of Tunis

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