Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) refers to non-medical procedures that alter or injure female genitalia partially or as a whole. FGM is a longstanding form of discrimination and oppression, affecting at least 200 million girls and women alive today. This practice is most prevalent in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, often due to social and religious reasons. Girls and women who underwent FGM present health complications, including bleeding, cysts, infections, infertility, and difficulties during childbirth. Currently, FGM is anticipated to be practiced in 90 countries globally. In 2021 alone, more than 4.6 million girls and women were at risk of female genital mutilation globally.
The United Nations recognizes FGM as a challenge to gender equality (i.e., Sustainable Development Goal 5). In 2008, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and UNICEF developed a global program focused on 17 African and Middle Eastern countries. Since its inception, Egypt, Nigeria, Sudan, and the Gambia have legislatively banned FGM. Over 5 million women have received FGM prevention, protection, and care services.
In 2012, the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation was introduced as an annual international awareness day on February 6th. This year's theme is "Accelerating Investment to End Female Genital Mutilation," aiming to prioritize ending FGM by 2030 despite the challenges of the ongoing pandemic. Last year, UNICEF, the World Health Organization, and UNFPA outlined a research agenda for FGM. To build on this effort, this year, the organizations aim to challenge healthcare provider attitudes towards FGM and build FGM prevention counselling by launching a training manual focused on person-centred communication. Other organizations such as AIDOS, an NGO focused on building, and protecting women's rights, continue to engage several African countries in promoting the abandonment of female genital mutilation.
Despite strong efforts, it is anticipated that 68 million girls and women are anticipated to experience FGM by 2030. UN Women calls for current efforts to be accelerated by ten times to eliminate FGM by 2030. To accelerate action, the intersecting identities that perpetuate risk for FGM should be considered and addressed. For example, despite 28 African countries imposing laws and legal provisions against FGM, its prevalence remains above 90% in some regions, calling for intensified and region-specific action. Moreover, other calls to action include scaling-up prevention strategies with key stakeholders, conducting rapid assessments on gaps in current policies and programmes, improving sexual health education, and enhancing health care providers' skill sets.
As we are eight years away from 2030, global efforts must be intensified to regain FGM elimination's momentum before the pandemic using the strategies outlined above.