Answering your questions about female genital mutilation

Girls in Kenya take part in a march to help end the practice of female genital mutilation, or FGM.

Girls in Kenya take part in a march to help end the practice of female genital mutilation, or FGM.

International Day of Zero Tolerance to female genital mutilation is recognized every year on February 6 to make the world aware of the harmful practice of female genital cutting or mutilation, commonly referred to as FGC, or FGM.

The day was first officially observed in 2003 by the United Nations as part of a campaign to help promote the worldwide eradication of FGM.

Now that you know a little about the purpose and meaning behind the day, let’s get to the heart of the matter.

What is FGM?

According to the World Health Organization, FGM includes procedures that can intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. FGM is an extremely painful process and too often, it affects the health and lives of millions of girls worldwide.

Above all, FGM is a violation of women’s and girls’ human rights. But despite this, FGM is still widely accepted and practiced around the world.

Who does FGM affect?

Unfortunately, it’s a lot more common than you may think. Approximately 120-140 million women and girls have been affected by this harmful practice and around 3 million girls are at risk every year. Many girls experience FGM at a very young age – anywhere between their first year of life and their early teens.

Why does FGM occur?
Madina is a Plan Project Manager in Mali, dedicated to preventing the harmful practice of female genital mutilation, or FGM in Mali.

Madina is a Plan Project Manager in Mali, dedicated to preventing the harmful practice of female genital mutilation, or FGM in Mali.

FGM happens for a number of reasons – generally for reasons associated with tradition, religion and culture as well as deep-seated inequality between girls and boys, and men and women. In some communities, FGM is considered an essential part of a girl’s upbringing. It is considered a rite of passage, performed on a girl as she enters adulthood. In other communities, FGM is performed to preserve a girl’s virginity, or used to control girls from engaging in sexual acts before marriage.

In all cases, FGM is an extreme form of discrimination against women and girls. It continues to persist in many communities because it is a deep-rooted tradition that has been exercised for generations.

Where is FGM practiced?

FGM is practiced globally, but very common in western, eastern and north-eastern countries of Africa. In Guinea, for example, nearly 99% of girls undergo FGM. Egypt is not far behind at 97%. FGM is also widespread in some countries in Asia and the Middle East.

Have Canadians experienced FGM, too?

FGM is illegal here in Canada, but that doesn’t mean Canadian women and girls haven’t experienced it. In 2011, some 29,000 women from Africa and the Middle East became residents of Canada. Though there is no reliable evidence to suggest FGM is being practiced here in Canada, young girls in some communities are at risk as they may be taken to their countries of origin to have procedures carried out on them, often against their will.

What’s Plan doing about FGM?

Plan works at the community level with community leaders, religious leaders, youth and parents to help raise awareness on the harmful effects of FGM. An essential part of our work is to help girls attain their basic human rights and to ensure the rights of women and girls are supported and protected by promoting gender equality at every level we work at.

Now that you’ve got the facts, you can raise awareness on International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation.

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