Answering your questions about female genital mutilation

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.

What is FGM?

Woman holding blades

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 form of gender-based violence and 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 200 million women and girls alive today have been affected by this harmful practice. The average age for girls to undergo FGM is between 7 and 10 years old.

Why does FGM occur?

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.

What are the risks of FGM?

It is estimated that FGM is performed by a medical professional on one in five girls; more often, however, it is performed by community elders, practitioners of traditional medicine, and relatives in rural settings. It is also often performed in unsanitary environments using old knives, razor blades, scissors or broken glass, and without anesthetic. 

Adverse effects of FGM include painful intercourse, menstrual blockage, urinary blockage and infection, wound infection, septicaemia and even death. In fact, women who have undergone FGM are twice as likely to die during childbirth and are more likely to give birth to a stillborn baby than those who haven’t.

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.

What is Plan International doing about FGM?

Group of girls

Plan International works with parents, community leaders, government authorities, children and young people to raise awareness, challenge lawmakers, help transform behaviour and put an end to harmful traditional practices that violate girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights, including FGM. A key aspect of our work centres on promoting gender equality as many harmful traditional practices, such as FGM, are often rooted in gender inequality.

Our approach emphasizes youth engagement, and creates spaces for young people, and especially girls, to raise their voices and involve their communities and governments in defending and upholding their rights.

Change is possible! Learn more about how we’re working to end FGM in countries like Guinea