Did you know that at least 200 million girls and women have undergone Female Genital Mutilation or FGM? FGM is included in the UN Sustainable Development Goal 5 Gender Equality. The practice of FGM is decreasing but still has a high prevalence in Northern Africa, Eastern Africa and West Africa. COVID-19 may also affect the progress toward elimination due to interruptions in programs. Below are the sections of the United Nations’ recent report, World’ Women 2020 Trends and Statistics, which reveals updated data on the current situation of FGM. The full section on FGM can be found here. Also check out the other 99 stories on the assessment of progress of gender equality in six critical areas here.
Female genital mutilation
• According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO), at least 200 million girls and women have undergone FGM based on recent data from 31 countries.
• FGM is slowly declining in some countries and subregions where the practice is prevalent.
• Despite recent progress, the prevalence of FGM remains alarmingly high in parts of Northern Africa, Eastern Africa and West Africa.
• Because COVID-19 is interrupting programmes to end FGM, progress may be threatened.
• Progress in the elimination of FGM is not universal, and where it is taking place it is not fast enough. Even in countries where the practice has become less common, progress would need to be at least 10 times faster to meet the global target of its elimination by 2030.
• Based on the latest available data, in six countries at least 3 out of every 4 women and adolescent girls aged 15–19 have undergone FGM.
Female genital mutilation is a violation of the human rights of girls and women that affects girls and women worldwide. There is a large body of literature documenting the adverse health consequences of female genital mutilation over both the short and long term: the practice is a direct manifestation of gender inequality, which “constitutes irreparable, irreversible harm and is an act of violence against women and girls”.
While the practice is most concentrated in countries in Africa, from the Atlantic coast across to the Horn of Africa, it is also practiced in countries in the Middle East, such as Iraq and Yemen, in some countries in Asia, and also in some communities in Australia, Europe and Northern America.
Female genital mutilation is condemned in international treaties and conventions, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the Cairo Declaration for the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation.
Furthermore, since FGM is regarded as a traditional practice prejudicial to the health of children and is, in most cases, performed on minors, it violates the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In many countries national legislation includes an explicit ban on the practice.
With its inclusion under Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 5.3, which is aimed at the elimination of this harmful practice by 2030, FGM holds a prominent position on the global development agenda. Although the practice has persisted for centuries, it is becoming less common, with a marked decline reported in countries such as Egypt where it was once universal, as well as in countries such as Kenya, where the practice is restricted to specific ethnic communities.
Prevalence rates of FGM vary significantly by country. The latest available data on the proportion of adolescent girls aged 15-49 years who have undergone FGM or cutting are shown by country in figure I, which highlights the fact that, despite recent progress, the prevalence of FGM remains alarmingly high in parts of Northern Africa and West Africa. Moreover, the onset of COVID-19 has interrupted programmes to end FGM, which could threaten progress towards the elimination of the practice.
Such declines at the country level have contributed to a reduction in regional rates over the past 15 years. In Northern Africa, the proportion of adolescent girls aged 15–19 years who have undergone FGM or cutting decreased by 17.5%, from 91.4% in 2004 to 73.9% in 2019. In sub-Saharan Africa, its prevalence decreased by 9.6%, from 34.5% to 24.9%, over the same time period (see figure II).