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Female Genital Mutilation: a concern for development

Female Genital Mutilation: a concern for development

Female Genital Mutilation, or FGM as it is commonly known, refers to a procedure that intentionally mutates female genitalia for the purpose of religious or cultural tradition.  Unlike male circumcision, the practice bears no health benefits for women and there are serious physical and psychological risks.  The number of women and girls affected is enormous – more than 100 million have undergone the procedure – and it is still performed on some 2 million girls a year in many Western, Eastern and North Eastern African countries.

The following is a comprehensive list of the African countries that practice FGM and the percentage of women aged 15-49 years who have been affected by it:

Djibouti (98%) Guinea (98%)
Somalia (98%) Mali (97%)
Egypt (97%) Eritrea (89%)
Sudan (89%) Ethiopia (80%)
Burkina Faso (76%) Mauritania (71%)
Sierra Leone (70%) Gambia (60%)
Chad (60%) Central AR (43%)
Cote d’Ivoire (43%) Senegal (20%)
Nigeria (19%) Tanzania (18%)
Benin (17%) Togo (12%)
Ghana (5%) Niger (5%)
DR of Congo (3%) Uganda (2%)

These statistics do not include girls under the age of 15 so it is safe to assume that the true numbers are considerably higher. In many communities it is believed that if the procedure is carried out between infancy and 15 years of age it will prevent sexually deviant behaviours later in life.

These numbers are nothing new. As far back as the early 1950’s, the UN commission on the Status of Women and other UN bodies formed a consensus that the practice of FGM was completely contradictory with universal human rights principles, including that of equality, non discrimination on the basis of gender/sex, the right to life when the procedure results in death, and the right to freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.  Ultimately the practice negates a women’s autonomy over her body and the right to make an informed decision about a procedure that will have enduring physical and psychological effects.

FGM is often performed as a coming of age ritual and there is a widely held and long standing belief that only girls who have had their genitals cut are suitable for marriage. In this regard the practice promises important social and economic security for women which makes it difficult to eradicate.

Not surprisingly, FGM is a big concern for those in the social development field. To date it has proved difficult to protect women from the practice as it is so intricately tied to history, culture and tradition.  In fact, we have barely made a dent in the global practice of FGM. The current prevalence is roughly the same as it was nearly a decade ago and we are still searching for a way to end one of the most pervasive and silently endured affronts to women’s human rights.

As young development workers we have to address the challenge of how best to negotiate the protection of women and girls in the face of cultural and political obstacles.  We have to strengthen existing approaches, such as the involvement of religious leaders in Sudan and Egypt, and we must also look to innovative new approaches like the involvement of young people in gender and sexual health education programs. This will require a far greater effort by social development workers, communities and governments, because eradicating the practice requires fundamental changes in societal attitudes and gender hierarchies.

Moving forward, FGM will continue to be a key area for social development workers as it undermines the realisation of universal human rights and at least two of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), namely the achievement of gender equality and the improvement of maternal health. The achievement of the MDGs will be seriously hampered and unachievable if the practice is to continue.  We must therefore begin to have serious discussions about how to tackle the problem of cultural traditions and rituals when they damage women’s mental and physical health and deny the full enjoyment of women’s human rights.

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Sally Crawshaw

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12 thoughts on “Female Genital Mutilation: a concern for development

  1. Krista

    Dr Julian Abel Constantine Gojer of Toronto Convicted of Drugging and raping two woman and killing a third one with the drugs he used to render his victims unconscious before raping them. Date fall of 2000. Psychiatrist gets off with a slap on the wrist and works as a psychiatrist regardless of criminal negligence against him.

  2. wow, great information, but we all need to spread the idea. but then again institutionalizing the practice is some out wired?

  3. Greetings:

    This is to humbly bring to your attention the availability of my new novel -FLIGHT OF LIFE – from the trilogy- “phenomenon that refuses to die”, a story from an African perspective which contributes to efforts to
    bring about the eradication of female genital mutilation, the harmful traditional practice which is slowly becoming more global in its spread from Africa and the Middle East to the West through modern migration.

    The novel is an advocacy styled fictional story of the adolescent daughter of an African diplomat who had first-hand knowledge of the agony of Female Genital Mutilation and the blood-chilling evidence of its damaging afflictions when she was seven years old. Avah has since had a predilection, and is averse to the harmful practice; she truculently battles to avoid going for the same rite of passage rituals. There was relentless pestering and harassing from family members fueling incessant heated confrontations between Avah and her mother including abduction attempts which finally culminated in sponsored daylight kidnapping on the streets of London and aggravated diplomatic imbroglio.

    This insightful modern day story throws up some simple practical yet unique eradication tool(s) that are so far overlooked in the fight against the scourge of FGM. You are an acknowledged passionate believer in the erradication of the old harmful practice that leaves girls and women victims with life-long physical and psychological trauma.
    FLIGHT OF LIFE is available as eBook at a low affordable price on Amazon Kindle and can be read also on your PC and other modern smartphone gadgets in addition to Kindle and iPod.
    Please visit for your copy; or a gift copy can be forwarded to you upon request. You may also borrow to read from the Kindles owners’ lending library on

    Thank you for your kindness.

    Raymond Ladebo

  4. Ellie Wong

    Really great article Sally! It was quite distressing to read that FGM can lead to trauma, bleeding and increased risks of sexually transmitted diseases including HIV. I was just read an interesting article in a UNFPA report about successful projects to address this issue.One project attempted to replace the value of FGM as a rite of passage ritual. In the project the older women continue to act as godmothers for the girls and they still undergo a period of seclusion where they learn about sex and reproductive health. However, alternative ceremonies take the place of FGM. An interesting strategy to balance cultural values and human rights?

    If anyone is interested the program it is called Tasaru Ntomonok and it's in:
    UNFPA. 2007. "Kenya: Creating a Safe Haven and Better Future for Maasai Girls Escaping Violence." Chapter 6 in Programming to Address Violence Against Women: Ten Case Studies. New York: UNFPA.

  5. Bek

    Such an important issue on such an important site. Well written and informative!

  6. Nicole

    Great article Sally, the stats are really frightening. Would love to hear of anything we can do at the local level to increase awareness of FGM.

  7. Brendan Rigby

    Similar to the AAP, the Royal Australian New Zealand College of Obstetricians will next month discuss performing the procedure and as Stuart mentioned, could become institutionalised. It has sparked debate already on the Daily Telegraph’s website @ I am just wondering if this is what happened to male circumcision. That is, going from a procedure that was (and still is in some contexts) highly ritualised and filled with religious significance to a medically institutionalised procedure?

  8. Stuart Meney

    Here’s another UN endorsed article about it:
    It expresses concern about the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggestion that some FGM practice performed by medical professionals is acceptable and that such a suggestion could institutionalize the procedure because “medical personnel often hold power, authority and respect in society” which could “lead health care providers to develop a professional and financial interest in upholding the practice”. It’s an interesting spin on the debate, highlighting concerns in immigrant communities in the US as well as in Africa. Violating human rights to make a tidy profit?

  9. Great site and very important article Sally. I have tweeted it.

  10. Kaitlyn

    Fantastic artcile Sal! Very important topic. You guys have done a great thing with this website!

  11. Barbara

    I love the site. It looks great and very informative. Thank you for caring enough.

  12. Elisha

    Wonderful article Sally and I agree 100%! good work : )

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