Population Matters

Let’s Make Female Genital Mutilation/ Cutting History

February 6th, 2013

Today is International Day for Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation/ Cutting (FGM/C). Even though FGM/C is widely recognized today as a violation of the rights of women and girls, the practice still persists. About 140 million girls and women worldwide have undergone FGM/C, with 3 million girls in Africa alone at risk of cutting every year.  That means that every single day somewhere from 6,000 to 8,000 girls are cut. The severity of the practice ranges from cutting to the total removal of the external female genitalia, but in any form it exacts an unacceptable toll on girls and women.

The World Health Organization defines FGM/C as any procedure that intentionally alters or injures female genital organs for non-medical reasons. FGM/C is mostly performed on girls between infancy and age 15 by traditional cutters who can use anything from a razor blade to scissors to broken glass. It is most common in 28 countries in Africa, mostly in the west, east and northeast, in some countries in Asia and parts of the Middle East. While there are no health benefits to FGM/C there are many ways in which it is harmful to girls and women. The harmful effects are both immediate (severe pain, shock, bleeding, and tetanus) and long-term (cysts, recurring bladder infections, infertility, increased risk of complications in childbirth, and the need for surgery).

While 20 of the 28 African countries have banned the practice of FGM/C, the laws are rarely enforced. Progress, however, is being made.  This past December the United Nations unanimously passed a resolution banning the practice of FGM/C. The resolution calls the practice harmful and a serious threat to the psychological, sexual and reproductive health of women and girls. It urges countries to condemn the practice of FGM/C and to work to eliminate the practice. It also calls on countries to enforce legislation that would protect girls from this gross violation of their human rights.

It is time to speak out for the 6,000 to 8,000 girls who are cut every day. The Population Institute is proud to join with the international community in standing up and saying it is time to make FGM/C history.

Posted by Jennie Wetter, Director of Public Policy