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    FGM is Not JUST an Africa Issue!

    An FGM survivor said the following: “I think we really need to change the face of FGM because it doesn’t just happen to people in Africa, it is everywhere… It’s easy to turn a blind eye and say it is not happening in this country (UK), in our community. But if people don’t think girls here are at risk, it stops them being saved because interventions that could help don’t happen.”

    The country – the United Kingdom – can be replaced with any other country: the United States, Canada, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Australia, Singapore… A quote from a recently published report states “We will be silent no longer.  We’ve found our voice, and we are calling on you to stand and take action.”

    A brief recap: what is FGM? Female Genital Mutilation, also known as cutting, refers to all procedures involving the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia for non-medical reasons, with NO medical benefits to the girl or woman that it is being done to. FAWCO, for the duration of the Target Project, will use the terms FGM and cutting; we will not use the term female circumcision or any of the other acronyms associated with the practice.  

    FGM is recognized and clearly described as a violation of human rights and as such is noted in SDG 5.3: 

    5.3: Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.

    • Indicator 5.3.1: Proportion of women aged 20-24 years who were married or in a union before age 15 and before age 18
    • Indicator 5.3.2: Proportion of girls and women aged 15-49 years who have undergone female genital mutilation/cutting, by age

    UNICEF states that at least 200 million women and girls have been affected by FGM, a very incomplete picture of what is really happening worldwide.  

    FGM is present on all continents except Antarctica

    There is evidence that FGM is practiced or that women and girls are at risk of having FGM performed on them in 92 countries (and counting); 32 countries have national data on FGM, and there is evidence of it in another 60 countries through various sources (anecdotal evidence, media reports, etc). The data available in Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A Call for a Global Response was used as the basis for most of the information in the following section. It is impossible to provide a detailed overview; therefore very brief information will be shared:

    • There are 32 countries with national data (countries on the African continent, Iraq, Yemen and the Maldives)
      • Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Indonesia, Iraq, Kenya, Liberia, The Maldives, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Yemen, Zambia
    • There is evidence in 31 countries of FGM being practiced in immigrant populations (countries on the European continent, United States and Australia); there is anecdotal evidence that FGM is practiced in extreme religious communities in the United States. 
      • Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States of America
    • Fifteen countries with small-scale studies on FGM
      • Colombia, India, Iran, Israel, Kuwait, Malaysia, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, United Arab Emirates
    • Fourteen countries where media reports and anecdotal evidence refer to the occurence of FGM
      • Bahrain, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Democratic Republic of Congo, Georgia, Jordan, Libya, Malawi, New Zealand, Qatar, South Africa, South Sudan, Syria, Zimbabwe. 


    The World Bank estimated, in an article titled Female Genital Mutilation is still practiced around the world, that in at least 10 countries, 65% of women ages 15-49 have undergone FGM. These countries are Guinea, Egypt, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Eritrea, Mali, Burkina Faso, The Gambia, Mauritania and Ethiopia. Other findings from this report highlight the following aspects as addtional risk factors for FGM: 

    • women with no or lower levels of education   
    • women in rural areas are at higher risk than in urban areas; and 
    • women in poor households are at higher risk than women in more affluent households. 

    The sad reality is that only 52 countries have laws against FGM, typically as a violation of human rights. 

    • Laws against FGM are most prevalent on the African continent, with 55% of global legislation against FGM orignating in 28 countries. Only Benin, Eritrea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya and Uganda have specific national anti-FGM legislation. Most African countries, Tanzania included, address FGM with other legislation.  
    • Europe (16 countries), the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand account for another 41% of legislation or legal provisions against FGM;
    • In the Middle East, only Iraq and Oman have passed legislation against FGM; 
    • Finally, not one country in Asia or Latin America so far has passed any legislation against FGM. 

    It is important to mention that a number of countries, although they do not have legislation against FGM, address FGM under criminal procedures that address violence. 

    Recent good news came from Sudan, a country with an estimated 86% prevalence of FGM, that passed FGM legislation

    The European Union estimates that approximately 600,000 girls and women are living with the consequences of FGM in the EU and that a further 180,000 are at risk of undergoing FGM. Research conducted in six countries (Belgium, France, Greece, Malta, Portugal and Cyprus) by the European Institute for Gender Equality (2017) found that 12-60% of girls originating from countries where FGM is practiced were at risk of FGM .

    In recent reports, researchers estimated that the following numbers of girls and women have undergone FGM in the European Union, the United States and Canada:

    • Austria: 7,036 (Specific criminal provision prohibiting FGM)
    • Belgium: 17,575 (Article 409 of the Belgian Penal Code provides for a prison sentence of 3 to 5 years for all persons participating, facilitating or encouraging all forms of female genital mutilations or any attempt to do so, with or without consent of the person concerned.)
    • Denmark: 7,910 (Specific criminal provision prohibiting FGM)
    • Finland: 10,254 (FGM is not explicitly prohibited in the Finnish Criminal Law, but in conformity with the Finnish Criminal Law, any type of FGM is illegal under the offence of “aggravated assault” (Penal Code, Chapter 21 section 6).)  
    • France: 125,000 (FGM was defined as a crime under French law in 1983, with the threat of 10 years in prison, or up to 20 years for cutting a girl under the age of 15. Parents who oversaw FGM were declared “accomplices” to the crime. The law also applies to parents who send French-born children abroad to be cut by making it a crime no matter where it is carried out.)  
    • Germany: 70,218 (Since June 2013, female genital mutilation is a statutory offense in Germany covered under § 226 (severe bodily injury); imprisonment is possible with a maximum penalty of 15 years.)
    • Greece: 15,249 (There is no ad hoc legislation preventing the practice of FGM;  practitioners will be punished under the provisions of the penal law on physical/corporal injuries.) 
    • Italy: 70,469 (Since 2006, there is a specific criminal law provision concerning FGM (Law No. 7/2006). Articles 583 and 583 of the Penal Code prohibit the performance of all forms of FGM.)
    • Netherlands: 41,000 (No specific FGM legislation, but FGM is addressed under child abuse legislation. It is punishable by 12 years in prison. Also, it is against the law for a resident of the Netherlands to arrange a FGM procedure in another country (i.e., girls are taken “home” on vacation). Having knowledge of an FGM procedure and not reporting it is also against the law. 
    • Spain: 15,907 (Specific criminal provision prohibiting FGM)
    • United Kingdom: 137,000 (Specific criminal provision prohibiting FGM)
    • United States: 513,000 women and girls who have either undergone FGM/C or are at risk (There was a country-wide law that prohibited FGM; however, this was declared unconstitutional by the District Court of Michigan in 2018; as of April 2020, 38 states have legislation that prohibit FGM, with 12 states having no legislation.)  
    • Canada: no data available (Specific criminal provision prohibiting FGM)

    (The numbers mentioned above do not include vulnerable women and girls.)

    The UNFPA (United Nations Populations Fund) estimated in 2018, with current population trends, that at least 68 million more girls and women will face FGM by 2030 – or an increase of more than 4 million girls being cut on a yearly basis by 2030, or one girl every 10 seconds!    

    There are ONLY 10 years left until the end date of the Sustainable Development Goals, but there still remains a vast amount of work to be done. It is important that each of us reading this article take action and become more knowledgeable about the significant impact of FGM, not just on individual girls and women, but on society in general.  

    You, too, can take action! Support the FAWCO 2020-2022 Target Project, S.A.F.E. (Safe Alternatives to FGM Elimination) by donating here.       



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